21 August 2020
More than 175,000 long-term early childhood development (ECD) centre teachers and support staff are at risk of losing their jobs without urgent financial aid. This is according to the C19 People’s Coalition.
“These jobs belong to the people (mostly women) working in some 30,000 ECD centres across the country, which without support are set to close their doors permanently. In addition, almost a million children will be affected by the closures and one million other jobs that depend on access to childcare will be affected indirectly,” the coalition said in a statement this week.
This week, ECD staff across the country participated in a week-long protest to get Department of Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu to redirect the R1.3 billion Covid-19 economic stimulus package to the ECD workforce.
According to the coalition, the money which would be allocated to the short term employment of 36,000 youth compliance monitors for ECD programmes, should be redirected to support the ECD workforce directly.
Romany Roberts, principal at Grow with Sunbeam Pre-Primary school in Wentworth, Durban participated in the protest this week. She said the government has not stepped in to help any ECDs since the start of lockdown.
“Beautiful ECD sites are closing their doors. It pains me deeply because we all know that the early development years of a child are the most important,” she said.
“It really has been hard on ECD sites to keep their doors open or to be Covid-19 compliant. As it stands many women will lose their jobs because there are no funds and parents are not sending their children back to school,” said Roberts.
ECD centres have been campaigning for support from the department to ensure their continuity since March. On 7 August, a letter was sent to Minister Zulu requesting a meeting and calling on her to redirect the R1.3bn. Since then, thousands of ECD staff have been sending the minister emails with the same request. To date, they have not received responses nor an acknowledgement.
On 13 August, a follow up letter was sent to the minister to which they are yet to receive a reply.
As part of the campaign, the coalition launched a petition that in less than a week gathered close to 10,000 signatories.
Patsy Pillay, director of New Beginnings which has centres in Chatsworth and Hammarsdale, said thousands of ECD practitioners have not been paid since April.
She said although ECD centres could open in level 2, complying with Covid-19 requirements is a challenge for many. “This is a double edged sword as the disadvantaged ECD centres who received no salaries [during lockdown] are expected to purchase PPE. Those that have opened have very few children,” said Pillay.
“Most staff are working class women who earn a very poor salary. They have devoted their lives to the ECD sector and we certainly do not want to lose this wealth of knowledge.”
Pillay added that they understood the value of youth development, but the money allocated to train them as ECD compliance officers would be better used to save the ECD sector from total collapse. “We urge parents and the wider community to send letters of support to the Minister and President,” she said.
A request for comment has been sent to the Department of Social Development. This article will be updated if a response is received.