Childcare operators across Australia are bracing for scrutiny as the Fair Work Ombudsman takes action over a high number of complaints.
Wage disputes, misclassification of employees and failure to pay termination entitlements were common among the 400 complaints made to the FWO in the childcare sector during financial year 2012-13.
These complaints resulted in 123 workers being repaid an approximate total of $255,000 in wages.
The FWO has launched a national campaign to target child care operators, in a bid to ensure they comply with workplace laws. Beginning in September, around 300 childcare centres nationally will be audited, with a focus on accurate wage payments and record keeping.
The FWO will provide information its website and will write to around 14,000 child care businesses alerting them to the campaign. The information is designed to help businesses comply with the Children’s Services Award 2010, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work Regulations 2009.
Long day care centres will be the key focus, along with preschools, after-school care and occasional care centres.
“A key part of the role of the Fair Work Ombudsman is to educate employers about how they can meet their workplace obligations,” Ombudsman Natalie James says in a statement.
“We’ve engaged with key industry stakeholders and will be providing businesses with materials specifically tailored for the industry that will support self-compliance with workplace law. We’re encouraging employers to conduct their own self-audit of compliance with workplace law, particularly payment of wages.”
The FWO reported that there are about 140,000 childcare employees in Australia, of which 96% are female and about 25% are aged under 24-years-old.
“We are mindful that this is an industry that employs large numbers of young people who can be considered vulnerable in the workplace because they may not be fully aware of their entitlements,” James says.
James says if FWO inspectors find problems, they will educate employers and encourage them to voluntarily rectify any issues.
Early Childhood Australia chief executive officer Samantha Page told SmartCompany this morning the organisation supports the campaign. Page says child care businesses can experience confusion about their requirements due to the scale and complexity of the industry.
“There are over 15,000 early childhood services operating in Australia from in-home early childhood services to large-scale operators, employing over 100,000 people,” she says. “For a sector of it size there will always be mistakes made, and we support the sector being given more support around wages and conditions.”
United Voice National President Michael Crosby agrees that the FWO’s campaign is a good start to improvements in the sector.
“The education campaign is the right place to start,” he told SmartCompany this morning.
“The vast majority of employers do the right thing…so it’s not a ‘knock ‘em down and drag them out’ situation.”
Crosby says it is the smaller players that often need the most assistance, as some companies may only have up to ten staff and lack expertise in human resources issues.
He says another key issue for the union is increasing enterprise bargaining agreements for child care educators, so they can be better paid for their skills.
The FWO will be hosting a webinar on to provide businesses with information about the campaign and employer’s obligations under the award.