More than 6000 early childhood educators walked off the job on March 27 for the third time in 12 months to demand equal pay. In addition, more than 30,000 parents made other arrangements for their children, or kept them at home, to stand in solidarity with childcare workers.
The walk-off was part of a nationwide day of action called by the workers’ union United Voice prompted by the failure of the federal government to act on equal pay. Early childhood educators are among the lowest paid professionals in Australia.
United Voice members told Green Left Weekly: “$21 an hour does not reflect the value of our work, or the value of the children we educate. Educators earn half the average wage despite high levels of qualifications. We study for between 18 months and four years.
“We are some of the lowest paid professionals in Australia. Our profession is undervalued because 96% of us are women and because of the historic association with ‘women’s work’.
“Early childhood educators are demanding an increase in their pay rates to bring them up to the level of similar professionals.”
A group of early childhood educators staged a flag raising ceremony at Geelong Trades Hall with about 20 workers from a number of childcare centres around Geelong attending.
The Geelong Trades Hall Council (GTHC) backs fair pay for early childhood educators. In a media statement, GTHC secretary Colin Vernon said “it is wrong” that the federal Coalition government is refusing to ensure fair pay for childcare workers.
“The Turnbull government needs to stop pandering to multinationals and banks and listen to the needs of the citizens of Australia.
“96% of early childcare educators are women. It is not acceptable to pay people in female dominated sectors less simply because they are women.
“The government must act to ensure fair pay for early childhood educators.”
Workers from more than 5000 childcare centres stopped work. At least 1000 workers gathered for a large rally at Melbourne’s Federation Square.
Speakers at the rally included Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus, United Voice assistant national secretary Helen Gibbons and The Parenthood executive director Jo Briskey.
Addressing the rally, Gibbons said childcare workers have been “driven to [action] by a failed system.”
“They’ve been driven to this by a broken government. A government that is failing early educators, failing parents and failing children.
“Early educators are highly educated, they’re skilled and they’re professional ... and they can be paid as little as $21 dollars an hour. This is a broken system.
“It does not have to be this way. Early childhood educators deserve better. We’re not taking no for an answer.”
Briskey said: “Thousands of parents right across Australia are standing with you, shoulder to shoulder and will not stand aside until we this done.
“Our educators support our families. You work with us to help our little ones grow to be strong, independent, happy little people who are ready to take on the world.
“[As a parent] many of us would be lost without you. That’s why we’re so shocked when we hear that you are paid so poorly.”
McManus said: “The powerful never concede to our just demands unless we build a voice that is so loud they cannot avoid us. That is what you are doing. You are building that voice that cannot be ignored.
“You are walking in the steps of those warrior women before you who fought for justice, who fought for equal pay since the 1970s. All of those women were told that they would not win ... but they built a movement for change and they won.
“It is unacceptable in our country that our equal pay laws are so broken they can’t fix it. We will sweep aside those unjust equal pay laws so that the women who walk in the steps after you do not have to fight in the same unjust way you’ve had to fight.”