rainbow fish glitter illustration

Childcare Workers Are Being Left Behind

Art by Mia Jessurun
Edits by Rachel Chopping

The other day at work, I saw one of the kindergarten children sitting alone. We’re probably not supposed to have favourites but, if I’m being honest, Daisy* is one of mine. Daisy is normally a cheerful little girl often found making important craft projects like chatterboxes (a highly valuable skill in the after school care community) or running around on the oval with friends. Seeing her so sad struck a chord in me.

When I asked her what was wrong, Daisy told me that she’d had a bad day. She really missed her mum. This isn’t an unusual complaint, particularly from the younger children, but in the context of COVID-19 it holds particular significance. Daisy only started school this year. She had about six weeks of acclimatising to big school, a world of long days and boring rules, before it was yanked from under her by the lockdown. No more friends, no more teachers, no more class. Hovering just beyond her comprehension was a background drone of death and illness.  The only constant in her upside-down world was her mum, who now worked from home and was one of Daisy’s sole sources of comfort, learning, and security. With Daisy now realising that her mum can work and take care of her simultaneously, what does it mean that she is no longer doing so? And who am I, a part-time uni student, to explain this confusing transition? 

I wish I could have hugged Daisy. I had to settle for what I hoped was a comforting pat on the back. 

“It’s okay, Daisy,” I said. “I miss my mum too. Let’s get a drink of water. What can I do to make your afternoon a little better?” 

Myself and countless other students find casual work in this sector: childcare. I’ve had more unsolicited comments on my appearance by 8-year-olds than I care to remember, although honourable mentions go to “you look ugly without your glasses” and “you have weird arms”. Short shifts and flexible hours make it a convenient job choice when trying to balance study at the same time. We’ve  been a consistent force at the front line during the spread of COVID-19. Most centres have stayed open in some capacity during the most intense periods of restriction, allowing other essential workers to do their jobs. We’ve adapted to ever-changing rules and regulations by increasing cleaning regimes, reconfiguring programming, and dealing with an increased number of children who have faced significant and traumatic change, such as job loss or death in the family. 

Despite this, the Morrison government has decided that this sector is the first to have JobKeeper funding removed, with payments initially promised to last until September now being ended on July 20th.  Not only does this decision show a disregard for childcare workers and the integral nature of our work, it also demonstrates a narrow-minded consideration of the impacts of COVID-19. Students living on campus are facing the possibility of not being able to return to their accommodation, and with it to their job. Where does this leave childcare workers who live on campus and are thus unable to go back to work? What of the childcare workers who are immuno-compromised? Those who can’t go to work but can’t work from home? 

Unsurprisingly from the Morrison government, this decision also disproportionately harms women, with female-identifying people making up approximately 95% of the industry. This is part of a broader, global tradition of devaluing female-dominated work  such as teaching, nursing, and cleaning. These careers are care-oriented and low-paid, despite being indisputably essential to community wellbeing and function. This is the professional manifestation of traditional gender-roles with women being defined by and confined into the domestic, maternal sphere. 

JobKeeper was never meant to be a long-term solution. But its prioritisation of some workers over others has revealed a long-term problem. The issue isn’t that Jobkeeper is being eliminated, but that it’s being eliminated  in a way that unfairly devalues childcare workers and female labour. I urge you to reach out to your friends in childcare. They probably have a Daisy too. To help support these workers, many of them our fellow students, we need to put pressure on the government. We need to contact members of all parties and ask them for answers or risk permanent damage to an essential part of the Australian workforce.   

 

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*pseudonym

 

 

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