Don’t go down the path they chose Down Under.
That was the message CUPE brought to a parliamentary committee holding hearings on Bill C303, the Early Learning and Child Care Act. CUPE and other child care advocates support the legislation, which outlines the framework for a high-quality, universal and accountable child care system.
Jamie Kass, chair of CUPE’s national child care working group and Shellie Bird, long-time child care worker and CUPE 2204 member, presented a brief that included a cautionary tale about Australia’s experience with for-profit child care delivery, and highlighted the connections between quality and wages and working conditions.
Kass applauded C303’s commitment to a public, non-profit system. The bill directs any new federal funds to non-profit delivery. She described the “sobering” tale of Australia, where the commercial child care sector mushroomed after the government opened up funding to for-profit delivery.
“In 1991, Australia had predominantly not-for-profit child care infrastructure. Then the government opened up funding to the for-profit sector. Now more than seventy per cent of the sector is commercially owned,” she said.
“The largest corporation in Australia – and the world – is ABC Learning Centres. In the same year ABC’s profits skyrocketed, Australia ranked extremely low in an OECD child care report.”
Kass also emphasized CUPE’s support for legislation that builds a solid child care system for Canada.
“Recent federal governments have stepped back from their important legislative role setting the framework for social programs,” Kass told the committee.
“Instead they favour federal-provincial-territorial agreements that exclude Parliament. These agreements - as we have recently been reminded - can be cancelled by a unilateral act, without any Parliamentary debate.”
Bird drew on her 26 years of experience as a child care worker to make the links between quality and a well-supported workforce.
“This bill, if adequately funded, will give our sector the ability to improve wages, benefits and working conditions so that we can attract and retain a highly motivated and engaged workforce – and ultimately give children what we know they need to flourish and to go on to become productive and engaged citizens,” she told the hearings.
“Our members along with thousands of other child care workers across the province and the country support Bill C303 because it acknowledges the direct relationship between quality ELCC and the need to invest in the child care workforce.”
Both Kass and Bird participated in a lively and at times partisan discussion, skillfully fielding questions from committee members of all political stripes.
Bill C303 is an NDP private members’ bill. It has passed second reading in the House of Commons, and must pass through the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) before returning for third and final reading.
Other witnesses who shared the committee time with CUPE also supported C303, and provided constructive comments on how to implement the best legislation possible. The Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada, the National Association of Friendship Centres, Rural Voices for Early Childhood Education and Care, and the Council for Early Child Development were also represented at the hearings.
Committee hearings continue on May 3 and conclude May 8.
CUPE’s brief is here.