Monday, April 13, 2015

Overseas help won't solve Australia's childcare problems, says Bill Shorten

By The Guardian

Increasing the intake of foreign at-home carers would not be a long-term solution to Australia’s childcare problems, Bill Shorten said after the government indicated it may consider extending working visas for au pairs.

Au pairs coming to Australia from overseas fall under the working holiday visa restrictions of only being able to work for a maximum of six months for one employer. This means families have half a year of certainty with individual au pairs before searching for another one.
The Productivity Commission report into childcare, released in February, recommended extending that timeframe.

“The Australian government should simplify working holiday visa requirements to make it easier for families to employ au pairs, by allowing au pairs to work for a family for up to the full 12-month term of the visa, rather than the current limit of six months per family,” it said.
That suggestion did not receive a warm endorsement from opposition leader Bill Shorten.
“I think the big challenges in childcare aren’t going to be solved by bringing in nannies from overseas,” he said. “If people think that we’re going to have all the children in Australia and their childcare solved by bringing in a whole lot of overseas nannies... that’s not the long-term solution.”

“I don’t think it goes to the fundamental challenges of childcare in Australia. I think what we need to do is make sure it’s properly funded, that people can afford to pay it, that the fees aren’t getting out of control and of course it’s good quality for our kids,” Shorten said.
Social services minister Scott Morrison said he was working with Labor on a response to the commission’s recommendations.

“The government is considering the recommendations of the Productivity Commission and has made no announcement on liberalising access to au pairs,” Morrison said in a statement.

President of the Migration Institute of Australia, Angela Chan, said that governments have debated the extension of working entitlements for au pairs for nearly three decades.
“It’s not a new thing,” Chan said. “Families have always wanted to bring people out to look after their children.”

Chan said that the issue of pay and conditions would need to be revisited if there is an influx of foreign au pairs.

“There’d have to be guidelines put in place to protect the foreign workers,” she said.
Ben Tessler, whose Western Australian family recently employed an au pair, said: “I think anything the government can do to relax the visa laws for au pairs will take the pressure off financially for many families in Australia.”

“If they soften the visa requirements it will open access for more families,” Tessler told Channel Ten.

Au pairs can be paid as little as $200 a week for their work, as their employment conditions include room and board.

“They [the government] would have to be very careful that they’re not undermining the childcare industry with the wages they’re paying,” Chan said.

The Productivity Commission report also recommends extending childcare rebate payments to cover approved nannies who meet training standards. Au pairs, who traditionally do housework as well as child-minding, are not counted in this category.

Morrison is engaging in a series of consultation with childcare professionals before releasing the government’s response to the commission’s report.

This article originally appeared 5 April in The Guardian.

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