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ABC Learning faces court battle -

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(generated from captions) discharge it. Peter Costello,

very much for talking with us. discharge it. Peter Costello, thanks

Great to be with you, Kerry. ABC Learning, the world's biggest publicly listed childcare provider, in recent years, has been a corporate phenomenon expanding at a rapid rate. a half-year profit on $38 million On Monday, it posted on that bottom line and is driving hard to improve while it continues to pursue growth. is going to court in Melbourne Tomorrow, the company to argue that it was not responsible

of one of its childcare centres. when a 2-year-old managed to get out Instead, the ABC will claim with the employees the responsibility rests who were on duty at the time. the case with trepidation Childcare workers are watching fearing it may set a precedent that will leave them holding the baby in every sense. Natasha Johnson reports.

They are the big kids in the child

care industry - a $2.3 billion

corporation. But in the same week

ABC Learning Centres announced a

doubling of its half-year profit,

it's launching legal action in the

Victorian Supreme Court over a $200

fine. This is not just about a $200

fine. ABC is trying to set a

precedent which will have enormous

implications for the child care

industry. If not, just in Victoria,

but nationally. What ABC is saying

is we own and operate those

services, but don't blame us if our

most junior child care worker does

the wrong thin. That's not our

fault. ABC are to be congratulated.

It's about time somebody stood up

and said no. AD: And you find we

constantly upgrade our facilities

securing a safe environment for

securing a safe environment for your child. The in what's being seen as

child. The in what's being seen as a test case, the legal challenge

test case, the legal challenge stems from an incident at this ABC centre

on the outskirts of mb. Three years

ago a 2-year-old boy climbed the

ago a 2-year-old boy climbed the the fence and wandered off for 10

minutes before being found by

neighbours. While a magistrate

neighbours. While a magistrate found that two staff members failed to

adequately supervise, it was the

company that copped the blame under

Victorian regulations and it's now

appealing that decision. It's hard

to know what their chances of

winning are, but they obviously

think it is worth while trying

because of the implications of

success of them successfully

success of them successfully arguing that "we weren't responsible, it

that "we weren't responsible, it was the employees who are responsible"

the employees who are responsible" , because that gets them off the the

hook. It means they are likely to

hook. It means they are likely to be off the hook if future events

off the hook if future events happen where children escape or are

injured. It is concerning me that

this is where it is heading. It's

just going to be finger pointing

just going to be finger pointing and I really don't want the finger to

I really don't want the finger to be pointed at me. Al-Carolyn Wallis

pointed at me. Al-Carolyn Wallis and Frances Rafoh work for a noft for

profit centre in East Melbourne.

They say they accept a degree of

personal responsibility, but fear a

shift in the balance would be shift in the balance would be un

shift in the balance would be unfair, considering they are

unfair, considering they are amongst the lowest paid workers in the

country. I don't think I'd be able

to afford to go to court. I don't

personally have the resources to

personally have the resources to get that together to face the issue.

I mean, I don't really understand.

Are we going to have to get

Are we going to have to get personal liability insurance. It's get lots

and lots of consequences for us as

individuals. It's a stressful job

and I'd have to question whether or

not I wanted to be in this industry.

It's got huge implications for the

workplace in general. Workplaces

workplace in general. Workplaces are set up where the employer takes

responsibility for the issues that

occur in the workplace, provided

occur in the workplace, provided the the worker is exercising reasonable

responsibility and care. Now, if

that dictum changes, then what it

means is that any worker who is in

means is that any worker who is in a position where they exercise care,

be it a nurse, a teacher, be it a

security guard, all of those sorts

of occupations could be subject to

responsibility cases under this

responsibility cases under this sort of a decision. The department had

the option of prosecuting

the option of prosecuting individual employees, but clearly what the

department's role is to maintain

standards in the industry and the

best way to do that is to hold the

companies that run these centres

accountable. AD: ABC Learning

Centres are looking for motivated

people... ABC wouldn't comment

people... ABC wouldn't comment while the case is before the court, but

National Childcare Association, a

body representing 1,000 private and

community services, supports the

argument that if operators have

argument that if operators have done everything they are required to,

they shouldn't be punished for the failings

failings of an employee. The owner

is responsible for employing the

qualified and correct staff. They

say, "Yes, I've had this years of

experience and I've got this degree

and that qualification." So I

and that qualification." So I employ you. Then all of a sudden the wheel

falls off the trolley and it is my

fault because I'm the proprietor.

Of course there are situations

Of course there are situations where an individual staff member should

an individual staff member should be held liable if - libel if they've

done something illegal or

deliberately breached the swings.

But an employer is responsible.

But an employer is responsible. When a child leaves their child in a

childcare centre they don't have a

contract with the employee. Their

contract is with the owner who's

offering that service in the

community. ABC is also running a

second legal challenge to

regulations over incidents at two

other Victorian centres. Child care

national is chiefing from the

sidelines as the corporate giant

with 20% market share takes up a

fight that's been difficult for

smaller individual owners to mount.

In Victoria they are very deadly

In Victoria they are very deadly and very quick to take you before a

magistrate who has no idea about

magistrate who has no idea about the child care industry. I don't think

of anyone in the world who is

responsible for their employees for

every minute of every second of

every day. But Barbara Romeril who

represents not-for-profit community

centres is alarmed at what she sees

as a changing culture in child care

and is urging Governments to

and is urging Governments to rewrite the law should ABC win in court.

The child care industry is

fundamentally different to other

industries like manufacturing or IT.

Child care is about our most

vulnerable and fragile community

members - babies, toddlers and

members - babies, toddlers and young children. It's far too fragile a

service to mitt it to the harsh

realities of the commercial world.

Irrespective of the outcome of

tomorrow's case, ABC is dealing

tomorrow's case, ABC is dealing with a new investigation at the same

centre over another child that went