Educares picket for jobs

Children during playtime at a daycare centre.

Mitchell’s Plain educare centres have added their voices to a national campaign to stop Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu from spending R1.3 billion to employ compliance monitors and instead keep 175 000 people employed.

This week members of the early childhood development (ECD) community and supporters took to the streets, picketing daily between 5pm and 6pm, to raise awareness about their struggle to keep the doors of learning open for young children.

Jamillah Abdullah, principal of Little Geniuses Playgroup in The Farm, said even before the lockdown it had been a struggle to get parents to pay school fees.

“It is always a struggle where paying school fees is concerned, but we make it work.

“We have to do what we can to stimulate the pupils and set their foundation ahead of (them) going to school,” she said.

Ms Abdullah said she and her sister opened the creche about three years ago to give pupils a safe haven, to be fed and to keep them off the streets.

“It is just sad that the government is not looking at us as an essential sector. If children do not have certain skills then they will not be accepted at school.

“Why can we not be recognised for what we do,” she asked.

Anthea Boltman, principal of Busy Bee Educare in Rocklands, said before the national Covid-19 lockdown she had 45 pupils, aged between four months and five years.

She reopened her educare on Monday August 3 with only five pupils, most of whom are due to start Grade R next year.

Ms Boltman employs three teachers and her main source of income is school fees.

Since they closed their doors five months ago staff have only received two months’ payments – for April and May – from the Department of Labour’s temporary employee/employer relief scheme (TERS).

“This is just their salaries. I have bills that have to be paid. I have had to meet standard operating procedures and can ill afford to have the virus spread at my institution,” she said.

Ms Boltman said she worried about the pupils who depended on the meals they served, as well as the care and teaching they receive daily.

“These last few months have been tough because I could not pay my rent, phone bill, water and electricity. During the recent storms my roof almost went off and have had to pay insurance,” she said.

The 25-year-old ECD centre faces possible closure if more pupils do not return at the end of the month.

She said while she understood parents’ fears, they had trusted the educare staff to take care of their children before Covid-19 and they could do the same now.

Ms Boltman said they had to buy sanitiser, detergents, a thermometer, cloths and personal protective equipment to ensure their work spaces are cleaned and sanitised regularly.

“Parents don’t need to be frightened to send their children. They are best at school learning. They do not have to be on the streets,” she said.

Karrimah Jacobs, principal of Vision Kidz.com in Colorado Park, said it has been a tough two months without any income and that they had not been able to pay their staff.

They have had to pick staff up, give them something to eat during the day and drop them back home every day, she said.

Ms Jacobs had 85 pupils, nine teachers and carers.

Since Monday July 27 staff have been at work and have had to ensure all measures were in place to keep children safe.

Health and safety guidelines include daily health screening, the use of personal protective equipment, physical distancing and more frequent and rigorous cleaning.

“We have to sanitise all of the time. We have printing and laminating costs because notices must be put up.

“Each child has his or her own space. His or her own toys. Their own mat,” she said.

And Ms Jacobs had to make a loan to keep her doors open.

She said that the children had amazed them by ensuring they keep physical distance and are aware of having to wash their hands regularly.

The Covid-19 People’s Coalition ECD work stream, an amalgamation of various ECD centres, forums and congresses have, since the start of lockdown, called on the department of social development to disburse continuity grants.

The picket campaign started on Monday August 17 with teachers, principals and supporters of creches across Mitchell’s Plain standing on the main roads with placards and calling on motorists to hoot their support.

They want the R1.3 billion, from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Covid-19 economic stimulus package, due to be used to temporarily employ youth to be compliance monitors to be used instead to keep the ECD centres opened and prevent job losses.

Veteran ECD specialist Colleen Horswell-Daniels, from Strandfontein, chairwoman of Mitchell’s Plain Eduation forum and who is also a signatory on the coalition’s statement said Ms Zulu has not heeded their calls.

The statement dated Monday August 17 said that the ECD workforce faces decimation as a result of the pandemic and the national Covid-19 lockdown.

“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 other jobs that depend on access to childcare will be affected indirectly,” read the statement.

The coalition had also sent a letter to Ms Zulu on Friday August 7 asking for a meeting and calling on her to redirect the R1.3 billion to support the ECD continuity grants.

Since then thousands of members have sent emails but have not received any acknowledgement of receipt.

Another letter was sent on Thursday August 13, but they had no reply.

The coalition has also launched a petition www.change.org/saveourECD, which has already garnered more than 10 000 signatures asking Ms Zulu to redirect this money to save the ECD workforce.

The campaign includes digital or online and in person pickets across South Africa to pressure Ms Zulu to respond.

Anyone wanting to join is welcome and participants are being asked to make posters featuring #saveourecedworkforce and #175 000jobs with a personal message to Ms Zulu.

They are encouraged to take photographs, post and share the messages on social media.

The coalition has also called on supporters to comply with Covid-19 precautions, including physical distance and that picket participants at a site should not exceed 15.

Ms Zulu on Thursday July 30 said the allotted money would be used to employ youth as compliance monitors at ECD centres and partial care facilities.

She said the social development portfolio rose to the challenge to defend South Africans against the Covid-19 pandemic through the administration of the social relief stimulus package and that the compliance monitors would be among the various investments made during the lockdown.

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