ABC
Learning Centres was subject to another scathing investigative article in The Age focusing on the childcare giant’s questionable record of
caring for children. Farah Faroque interviewed several parents, as well as former and
current ABC employees who painted a less than rosy picture of how ABC is able to
record ever-increasing profits while every other listed child company staggers
(and is inevitably taken over by ABC). Faroque provided an interesting insight into
how ABC has achieved its success, with a senior ABC employee noting
that:

We never
struggled for food, but you’d expect it to be a lot higher (standard) than it
actually was … When you break it down, our budget works out to
under $1.50 a child each day – that covers breakfast, morning tea, lunch,
afternoon tea and a late snack … they never blatantly say ‘Keep costs down’, but
it is a strict budget – and that’s the end of it.

The
most poignant quote however, related to the details of a current piece of
litigation in which ABC is involved. Faroque notes:

[A]n
appeal decision is imminent over a $200 Magistrates’ Court fine imposed on ABC
Learning for inadequate supervision of a runaway toddler at a centre at Hoppers
Crossing three years ago … ABC has argued that as a company it cannot be held
responsible if there were shortcomings by low-level
staff.

While
ABC may willingly (and successfully) flaunt the competition laws, one would have
thought the long-time legal principle of vicarious liability still applies to the
childcare behemoth, just as it would to every other employer in Australia.

Vicarious
liability implies that an employer is tortiously responsible for the actions (or
omissions) of its employees if those actions (or omissions) occur within the
course of their employment. The principles underlying vicarious liability are
simple. First, it acts as a deterrent to future harm (by providing an incentive for employers
to reduce the risk of accidents) and second, it allows victims to bring an action against
someone who can actually afford the eventual payout (suing a child care worker
who earns $15 per hour before tax would be, for want of a better legal term, a
total waste of time).

It is
not illegal for ABC to hire inexperienced staff and pay
them relatively low wages – that is a business choice. However, ABC cannot then
escape its legal responsibilities by blaming the very staff it chooses to
employ.

Peter Fray

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