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Mining town parents turning down jobs because they cannot get childcare

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Parents living in a coal mining town are turning down jobs because there is no childcare available
Meixner, Sophie
Publication Date: 
31 Aug 2019


Moranbah, in central Queensland, has one of Australia's lowest unemployment rates at just 1.6 per cent, less than a third of the national unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent.

The Isaac Regional Council promotes the town as a family-friendly option for parents employed in the mining industry, allowing workers to avoid the fly-in-fly-out lifestyle and come home at the end of their shift.

But families are spending up to 18 months on waiting lists to access childcare, with some parents unable to accept job offers because there is nobody to care for their children.

Mum-of-three Hazel Bone has had her two-year-old son Zackary on a childcare waitlist for more than a year.

The business support worker applied, interviewed for, and was offered a job in mid-July but was forced to reject the offer after a home daycare placement fell through.

"They offered me the job and within 24 hours I had to turn around and say 'sorry, my daycare has been pulled'," she said.

"I had to turn it down because I couldn't commit to that, so it was unfortunate."

Ms Bone, who worked throughout her first two children's pre-schooling years, said she wanted to work for financial and personal reasons.

"We've got three kids and I've always worked since they were very young, so it's hard not being able to work," she said.

"For my own mental health, to work does me a lot of good. I get to go out do things that I love and use my brain.

"But it's also the difference between my husband and I making ends meet and living comfortably and providing for our children."

About 140 families waiting

Mine worker Rebecca Hill had her second daughter Caitlyn in January and her employer offered her flexible day shifts as she transitioned back to work.

Despite wanting to return to work as soon as she could, Ms Hill could not give her employer a start date as neither of her daughters could access regular childcare days.

"I was told the waitlist is about 140 families waiting to get their child into care," she said.

"I could go back to work now, but I can't get childcare so I have to wait.

"It's hard, it's really disheartening, because there is so much opportunity here, there is a lot of work out here, but you just can't get childcare."

Ms Hill said her older daughter Sienna, 3, was becoming listless without structured early childhood education.

"She's bored, she wants that interaction with other children," she said.

"When we go out and we play at the park, she doesn't want to come home because she's playing with the other kids and she's enjoying herself."

A spokesperson for the Education Department said there were collectively 300 allocated daycare or kindergarten spaces in Moranbah, but would not confirm how many children missed out on a place.

Ms Hill said this availability was inadequate for Moranbah's growing population.

"[There are] thousands and thousands of families here, and they're encouraging more people to move here, but it's stopping people from moving here when they haven't got childcare," she said.

"The mining industry is thriving [and] every day there are new people moving to town.

"If they were given the opportunity for their child to to get into daycare, you'd have more people living here, you'd have more of a community, you'd be bringing more money into the town."

The Education Department said it would hold a community meeting in September to discuss options for increasing early childhood participation.

Challenge to recruit staff

Director of Planning, Environment and Community Services at Isaac Regional Council Jeff Stewart-Harris acknowledged the nature of mining towns posed unique challenges to childcare availability.

"Childcare is an issue within the region, as it is with many regions," he said.

"It's particularly so in resources-type communities where there are very transient populations and populations where the shifts don't start at the beginnings and the ends of the year.

"It makes it hard for childcare centres to plan their staffing in advance."

He said childcare availability was a complex issue involving local, state, and federal governments in addition to commercial factors.

"There is no silver bullet to this; it is a supply-and-demand thing at the end of the day and the commercial responses will respond to long-term trends of demand," he said.

Mr Stewart-Harris said more incentives needed to be offered to attract and retain childcare educators in mining towns.

"One of the most challenging things that childcare operators tell us is maintaining their staffing levels," he said.

"There is one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country in this region and that's because people have found work here.

"There's always this lure of people into some of the mining roles and so recruitment and retention of staff in many service industries is a challenge within resources communities."


Entered Date: 
4 Sep 2019
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