KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The government is looking at reopening childcare centres in Nova Scotia. A CBC report suggests it could happen as early as June 8.
That doesn’t sit well with Charlotte, an early childhood educator (ECE) who works in a daycare centre somewhere in Northern Nova Scotia. That’s too soon and puts everybody at risk, she says.
She also thinks it is concerning that schools will remain closed until September, while low-paid mostly female ECEs with frequently no more than four paid sick days per year are expected to be ready in early June.
What are your concerns around the risk?
They’re keeping schools closed until September. It seems like arbitrary reasoning to me that some children would be going back to their classrooms and others are not. The risks are the same, the difficulties around social distancing are the same. This seems so backwards to me, we’re sending the youngest children back first? Older children are much better equipped to understand social distancing, it makes no logical sense.
I just look at how COVID-19 was handled in nursing homes, where workers were not really listened to, and I worry about the similarities between our two fields. Right now there’s a lot of talk going into the plan to reopen about PPEs, there’s a lot of talk about ratios. And those are good things that we need to talk about, but I don’t see enough talk about sick time, or wages. And those are two things that we know were part of the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes.
We know that long term care staff were not paid enough and they would have to find work elsewhere. Well, that’s something that happens a lot in daycares with substitutes who move from centre to centre. Me and many others working in a childcare center make $14 an hour. And we have four sick days a year. ECE’s don’t get summers off and I think it’s messed up that the total amount of paid time off we get a year, which is ten vacation days and four sick days, is the same amount of days needed to quarantine if you get infected. You can’t take that extra time off when you are making poverty wages, you have to pay the rent and keep the lights on.
No matter whether we open in June or July, I fear that we’re going to make the same mistake that was made in nursing homes, and it’s going to lead to the spread of infections, then we have to shut down again, like what happened in New Brunswick.
What would you like to see happen
I think that all ECEs should at least be making a living wage. $14 an hour is well under a living wage and the highest you can be paid as an ECE in Nova Scotia is $19 an hour. I also think that all ECEs should have at the very least 14 sick days a year post COVID, in case they need to quarantine. Again, many of us currently do not have that, especially if we’re not unionized. If caregivers working in nursing homes had these protections in place when COVID hit lives might have been saved. I really hope we learn from that and don’t just rush to reopen without really considering those things.
Do you feel you have a say in the matter?
There’s a lot of different people who are working on the plan to reopen right now in the Department of Early Childhood Education. I’m concerned that the voices of ECEs, many of whom are not unionized, do not have a real voice. The people who are making these decisions aren’t the ones who are physically going to be working on the floor with the kids, and probably aren’t experiencing poverty in the same way that their workers are. And because of the danger that COVID-19 puts frontline workers in, I think it’s really important that those workers are heard.
Much of the controversy over when daycares should open and how they should open is a product of how much the childcare sector is a patchwork system. There’s day homes, there’s public centers, there are centers in schools now, there are private centers, non-profit centers, for profit centers, and everybody’s in a different position.
Why is it that you’re not being listened to?
There’s something else ECEs and long term care workers have in common in that we’re predominantly female professionals caring for our oldest and youngest citizens. The McNeil government has underfunded both those sectors in the past, and I don’t have confidence that they will change their tune now, as we’ve seen other vulnerable workers dismissed and ignored by them in the middle of the pandemic.
We should really be paying attention to the order in which people are sent back into the economy, because that’ll tell us a lot about who it’s okay to put in danger, and who isn’t.