childcare fees waived, but what about vaccinating our teachers?

Government waives childcare fees, but what about vaccinating our teachers?

"Safety in our workplace has never been a priority"
teachers

The Morrison government announced a waiving of childcare gap fees for parents in the lockdown area who choose to keep their children home overnight, with roughly 2160,000 families to be eligible for the waiver in fees across the Greater Sydney area.

From next Monday, the federal government has agreed to allow childcare centres not to charge families gap fees while still receiving taxpayer subsidies when children are absent.

The gap fee is the difference between the Child Care Subsidy the Government provides to a service and the remaining fee paid by the family. 

Families will be allowed to keep their children enrolled but not have to pay for care they are not using during the lockdown, which has extended at least until the end of July.

Since the extended lockdown was called, parents have been urgently calling on the Federal and NSW governments to waive gap fees for early childhood education and care in circumstances where families are unable to use the services.   

Executive Director of The Parenthood and Women’s Agenda Contributing Editor Georgie Dent believes that waiving the gap fee ensures parents in Greater Sydney who are following the stay at home orders aren’t out of pocket for a service they can’t use for the duration of the lockdown is critical.

“Families who choose to follow the stay at home orders and keep their children home shouldn’t be expected to be out of pocket for a service they aren’t using,” she said in a statement. 

“Waiving the gap fee doesn’t cost the Federal government a cent but it means parents aren’t being forced to pay for a service they’re not accessing and early learning services are still able to pay the wages of educators and staff.

“Parents and educators in Sydney deserve the same support that parents and educators in Melbourne received last year.”

Vaccinations

It’s a great first step, but what about the early childhood educators in such centres who have had no priority access to vaccinations (other than is specifically impacted areas), and what about school teachers?

The questions come (again) as Morrison conceded on ABC this morning that the vaccination rollout has faced delays and had its “challenges” and a lot of “shocks to the system”.

Women’s Agenda has reached out to several teachers for comment, but the Department of Education prevents teachers from making comment about their conditions. 

On July 7th, The NSW Teachers Federation made a statement on Facebook, saying that the Department has communicated with principals advising further information once the Premier provides further details. 

“Federation is aghast at the continued and repeated disrespect shown for our workforce,” the statement begins. 

“It has been widely reported in the media this morning that the current restrictions will remain in place across Greater Sydney for another week.

“It has been reported schools in Greater Sydney will return to “online learning” from Tuesday and the Federation understands there is to be no face-to-face PL on Monday’s School Development Day. Staff may attend their work site if they need or want to.”

“Federation acknowledges the immediate and significant impact this will have on our teachers, principals and school operations.Federation has and will continue to seek consistency in the application of restrictions, as per health advice, across ALL settings in affected LGA’s/regions.” 

“The union will also continue to advocate for ALL teachers to be considered frontline workers for the purposes of vaccination prioritisation. The health and safety of our members and school communities at large remains front and centre in all of our deliberations.”

The post generated more than 400 comments, most of them exasperated by the lack of support. One comment read, “I would like the repeated phrase ‘schools are safe’ by the government to be questioned publicly and asked to explain this terminology. Sharing classrooms , no appropriate spacing, no Perspex shields, crowded office spaces. These are standard WHS every other employer are expected to provide for workers.”

Another teacher expressed their disappointment in the lack of protection for teachers.

“Talking rhetoric as usual,” the comment began. “NSW Teachers Federation need to have notified members about steps to protect teachers from the highly transmittable Delta variant. Such as masks , vaccination process and classes.”

“Are students expected to wear masks in the classroom? This is our work space. We are told continuously how federation are working but at the end of the day we are still in the same position of being undervalued. So we go back and hope we are safe in our unprotected work space. As a teacher I am disappointed with how we are supposed to believe that our health and well-being matters when the evidence contradicts the reality of teacher life.”

“Apparently having a qualification in teaching isn’t as good as a vaccination….safety in our workplace has never been a priority,” another comment lamented.

“Absolutely outrageous treatment of unions and their membership,” one comment blared. “If the government consulted unions I think this whole pandemic and vaccine rollout would’ve been dealt with much more effectively.”

One comment attacked the one-sided vitriol: “After decades of activism, as Federal Representative, Councillor and Committee Member, reading some of these comments below makes me sick to the stomach. We are a Union, YOU are the Union. Get involved people, attend association meetings, nominate for council, drive your workplace committee, be an activist and fight with us, not against us.”

Two days later, the Federation posted another statement, saying it understood “…these are stressful and uncertain times. In an effort to provide our members with answers, we’ve created three COVID FAQ pages to assist. Please refer to them for updates on the changing situation and on Federation’s position. As always, Federation is here to support you.” 

On Tuesday July 12, Premier Berejiklian’s announcement that teachers, school staff and aged care workers in the Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool local government areas would have access to priority vaccinations from this Friday onwards. 

The priority eligibility covered teachers, administration staff and support officers working for government and non-government schools in the designated areas.

These individuals will be moved to the front of the vaccine queue, though it’s not mandated. It’s simply an option teachers can take up.  Almost 10,000 teachers from 236 schools across the regions can access a new vaccine centre opening at Fairfield Showground which will target both priority groups. Up to 3000 non-teaching school staff from across the hotspots will also have priority access to the vaccinations. 

SMH reported that 9650 teachers who work in the affected local government areas can receive a vaccination, with 5785 in public schools, roughly 2000 in Catholic schools and under 2000 in private schools.

Roughly 2960 non-teaching staff across the three school sectors will also be eligible.

Dallas McInerney, Catholic Schools NSW chief executive believes the vaccination plan “mitigates risk for the entire school community.”

“Vaccination hubs will act as a key part of this strategy, serving the entire NSW community, and a priority booking system is a sensible way to ensure teachers are at the front of the queue,” he told SMH. 

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, who has publicly advocated for teachers to be placed at the top of the vaccine queue, encouraged teachers to take advantage.

Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos spoke to SkyNews on Wednesday, saying “We need to put health and safety first. These are very trying time for teachers.”

On Berejiklian’s announcement, he said it was a “good breakthrough” and that his organisation hopes it is the first step to what will be a prioritisation of teachers right across the state.”

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