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Signing An Employment Contract When Working In An Early Childhood Service

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An employment contract is an agreement between you and your employer. It might set out your pay, duties, how many hours you’ll work. It sets out the terms and conditions of your employment.

What Are Employment Contracts?

Employment contracts tell you about your rights and responsibilities as a worker.

Employment contracts often contain details such as:

  • how much you’ll be paid
  • holiday and sick leave
  • your position
  • job responsibilities
  • hours of work
  • workplace policies etc.

Note: Sometimes employment contracts will be called something else like an 'agreement', or 'terms and conditions of employment' or 'workplace agreement'.

Your Rights

Having a contract means you are classified as an employee (casual, part-time or full-time) and an employee, you have workplace rights set out under Australian law.

An employment contract can’t offer you less than the rights and conditions set out in the National Employment Standards or set out in your Award.

***For Cert 3 and Diploma Qualified Educators your Award is the Children's Services Award 2010.

***For Early Childhood Educators your Award is the Educational Services Teachers Award.

You are covered by the NES, regardless of whether you've signed a contract. A contract can’t offer you less than their minimum legal entitlements.

Signing A Contract

Before you sign a contract:

  • read every word, including the fine print
  • ensure that it reflects the terms and conditions that were negotiated
  • seek legal advice
  • allow plenty of time to consider and understand the contract
  • don’t be pressured into signing anything if you are unsure
  • never leave blank spaces on a signed contract – cross them out if you have nothing to add so they cannot be altered later
  • make sure that you and the other party initial any changes to the contract
  • obtain a copy of the signed contract for your records.

If it is not possible to have a written contract make sure you have other documentation such as emails, quotes, or notes about your discussions to help you identify what was agreed.

Changes To Your Contract

Your employer cannot change your employment contract without asking you first or providing you with prior notice of the proposed change, especially fundamental terms in your contract.

Fundamental changes include:

  • your wage
  • the hours you work
  • whether you’re considered full time or casual.

These changes are considered to be fundamental because, by altering these terms in your agreement, your employer is essentially creating a new contract of employment with you.

For changes in your contract such as performance appraisals methods or ongoing training requirements, these should be included in your workplace policy and your employment contract will make reference that you must comply with your workplace policy at all times.

Finding Mistakes About Legal Minimums In The Contract

It's important that you understand your entitlements as an early childhood educator. Please make sure that you are aware of your Level and your Wage and that it is correct in the employment contract.

If you have signed a contract and realise that a mistake has been made (such as pay rate, level etc). please ensure that you talk to your Director about your concerns.

Note: Fair Work Ombudsman can give advice about the legal minimums in your employment contract. You will need to contact a lawyer for advice about any other terms and conditions in the contract.

Remember:

  • Always get a copy of a contract you have signed.
  • Never sign anything you haven't read or don't understand.
  • Try to ensure that all correspondence going back and forth between you and your employer regarding proposed changes to your employment agreement are made in writing. This way you can keep a record of what was said in case you need to refer to it later.

For more information: Childcare Wages In Australia, Early Childhood Teachers Award 2010

References:
Employer Changed Employment Contract Legal, Legal Vision Australia
Employment Contracts Changes To Existing Contracts, Job Watch Australia 
Employment Contracts, Fair Work Ombudsman 
Contracts and Agreements, Small Business Australia 
Rights At Work, Employment Contracts, Youth Central Australia 

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