With more than 140,000 employees, the child care sector is a major employer in Australia of women and young workers. But whether through ignorance, complacence or greed, child care businesses have been charging parents a small fortune, while underpaying their workers and the Fair Work Ombudsman has had enough.
Earlier this year the Fair Work Ombudsman announced a national audit of child care businesses will take place in October to improve compliance with workplace laws in the sector.
In 2012-13, there were almost 400 complaints from child care workers, leading to 123 workers being repaid about $255,000 in wages.
Last month a Melbourne woman was awarded $16,000 compensation after her employer, Guardian Early Learning Centres, permanently appointed another worker to her position while she was on maternity leave.
In another case, one national child care provider had to repay more than 3,000 current and former staff more than $2.6 million in underpaid wages. Camp Australia, a national out-of-school-hours care provider operating in all mainland states and territories, discovered the underpayments after conducting its own audit in late 2011.
Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James, said “About half the complaints investigated in 2012-13 have led to the identification of underpayment of wages, largely because of misclassification of employees or the failure to provide correct entitlements on termination.”
“Another issue identified was the failure on the part of a number of child care centres to maintain appropriate records or provide employees with pay slips, which are legal requirements under workplace law.”
Ms James said her office had written to 14,000 child care businesses across Australia to advise them of the tools and resources available from the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website at www.fairwork.gov.au/childcare to help them comply with the Children’s Services Award 2010, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work Regulations 2009.
As well checking that minimum entitlements are being provided to workers, Inspectors will also check that businesses are correctly classifying staff, maintaining appropriate records and providing pay slips.
The Fair Work Ombudsman will focus on Long Day Care Centres, which represents about half the industry. It will also include audits of Preschools, Out-of-School Hours Care/Vacation Care and Occasional Care Centres. It does not include centres operated by local government, as this is outside the Fair Work Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.