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Importing affordable childcare from Asia

28 April 20143 comments

asian nannies pic1-300x225Women from Indonesia and the Philippines would be able to work as live-in nannies for your Australian families under a radical proposal put before the Productivity Commission.

The plan, by the social think tank The Indonesia Institute, would see Asian women brought to Australia to help fill the childcare gap – and also potentially work as live-in aged care workers.

The women would be paid a $200-a-week wage and also receive accommodation and food.

The submission calls for immigration and labour regulations to be “liberalised to allow carers from Indonesia (and other Asian countries) to work as nannies in Australia at a cost acceptable to both nannies and the majority of Australian families”.

It says that the benefits of the scheme would be: more affordable childcare; the diverting of government children care subsidies to early childhood learning initiatives; reducing costs for working parents; and, creating a new stream of funds to assist developing nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The proposal’s author, former WA Government Regional Director to Indonesia Ross Taylor says the $200 a week wage is twice what a nanny would earn in Indonesia.

Mr Taylor says a percentage of the wage would be paid to an agency to oversee the scheme and prevent abuse or exploitation of the nannies.

“The host family would lodge a bond with the agency and that would be held against the possibility that the nanny was not paid or was mistreated,” he said.

“The host family would provide medical insurance, accommodation and food and a work clothing allowance.

“We envisage the nanny would be entitled to every Sunday off and a return airfare home for two weeks every year,” he said.

“We believe the proposal would result in adequate and affordable childcare being available to a much greater proportion of Australian families than is currently the case,” Mr Taylor said.

He said there were examples of similar schemes working successfully in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

“The experience elsewhere in Asia Pacific is that Asian nannies will also assist with household chores such as cleaning and cooking. An Australian working parent could arrive home after work to a clean house and the evening meal underway, without the need to collect the children from childcare, could devote his or her energies to being both a better parent and more effective in his or her career,” Mr Taylor said.

He said the scheme would also yield economic benefits.

“Australia is competing for skilled workers in a global economy. Skilled workers who are parents will be less likely to choose to come to Australia if the costs of childcare are very high,” he said.

Mr Taylor said the proposal was intended to create a public discussion on the issue. “Also, we as an institute wanted to look at ways to improve the cultural and community links between Indonesia and Australia and we were also conscious of the growing crisis in the cost and availability of childcare for families and the government,” he said.

Mr Taylor said the scheme effectively already existed. “Backpackers from Europe or North America currently are able to work as au pairs with Australian families – but only for six months,” he said.

“Families tell us they find this unsatisfactory because after six months, the children have got to know and trust the nanny and then she has to move on.”

Mr Taylor said he understood concerns over the potential for exploitation. “We think we’ve addressed these quite genuine concerns by having an agency to oversee the scheme,” he said.

The proposal has generated a wide public debate with some commentators supporting the proposal and others labelling it exploitative and the cause of personal and social costs to the nannies.

Author and radio host Wendy Harmer said the scheme would effectively create $5-a-hour workers and presents a minefield in regulation and oversight.

But anthropologist Maria Platt says that many women in Asian migrate for work to build better lives for their families.

The Indonesia Institute is a WA-based NGO which promotes Indonesia-Australia relations in Australia and Indonesia with a focus on community, social, political and welfare issues.