Thousands of early childhood educators around Australia walked off the job for the third time in 12 months on March 27, as part of the ongoing Big Steps campaign for equal and professional pay.
The walk-off came about because of the federal government’s failure to meet the February 1 deadline educators and their union, United Voice, had set for a response to their demand for a fair pay increase.
Educators understand that families cannot afford higher childcare fees. This is especially true of working women, as the gender pay gap is a reality in all sectors. Instead, the campaign is demanding that early childhood education and care be sufficiently funded by the federal government.
The 2016 Early Childhood Education and Care National Workforce Census found that more than 96% of long day care employees were women, and caring and teaching during the first years of life is traditionally thought of as being unskilled “women’s work”.
This could not be further from reality. A child’s early years are crucial for all aspects of brain development and all future education and contributions to society. In order to effectively support development and learning in the early years, educators engage in extensive curriculum planning and reflection on pedagogical practices, which include sensitive and respectful care, as well as cognitive provocations and teaching.
All educators in long day care centres are now required to hold or be actively working towards a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care. Educators are also expected to be familiar with and carry out their daily work in accordance with the National Quality Framework for early childhood, which encompasses the National Quality Standard and the Early Years Learning Framework.
Pay rates for Certificate III qualified educators currently start at just $21.29 an hour, which is less than half of the average Australian wage. For a diploma qualified lead educator with several years experience, the award rate rises only to $25.84 an hour. Degree qualified early childhood teachers receive slightly higher rates, but still earn significantly less than primary school teachers.
In February the misnamed Fair Work Commission rejected the equal remuneration order being pursued by United Voice on behalf of members. However, United Voice assistant national secretary Helen Gibbons said: “This will only ramp up the campaign and the resolve of educators to get the government to prioritise fairness and equality for early educators.”
In Canberra, participants in the March 27 action gathered at MOCCA Childcare in Manuka, where educator Pixie Bea said: “Our job is horribly undervalued because a lot of people don’t understand it”. She described the profession as “emotionally, physically and intellectually challenging” and added that care is consistently undervalued, but that “the more we all care, the better our society will be”.
[Jo Hunt is an early childhood educator in Canberra.]