Early education workers walk off for equal pay

Canberra early childhood educators walk off on September 7. Photo Fatima Ali
Friday, September 8, 2017

Early childhood educators, from Cairns to Hobart and from Perth to Townsville; from big cities like Sydney to the smallest like Launceston, walked off the job on September 7 to demand equal pay.

Around Australia, 90 child care centres and more than 3000 educators, parents, children and supporters from other unions and community groups joined the largest early childhood walk-off in Australia’s history.

United Voice organiser Linda Revill told Green Left Weekly early childhood education is a female-dominated sector that is "traditionally seen as women's work". However educators are highly qualified and do a really important job yet they can be paid as little as $21 an hour "whereas if they were working in a male dominator sector they could be earning at least $10-$15 more".

A parent supporter at the Brisbane rally told educators that "you need to be valued and paid for what you're worth, because you're not at the moment". She called on both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to step up to support pay equity for educators.

The walk off began at 3:20pm because that is the time in the day from which early childhood educators are essentially working for free if there were pay equity.

United Voice branch president Sharon Caddie moved a resolution that read in part: "We're done asking nicely. We call on the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to fund equal pay right now. If he has not done this by February 1 2018 we resolve to call massive close down actions across Australia in March 2018. We will shut down the sector if we have to."

The resolution was enthusiastically endorsed with not a single voice of opposition.

Reville told Green Left the federal government should treat early education like the rest of the education sector: "It is part of education and part of a child's life" and therefore should be funded by the federal government.

Educator Jo Hunt gave this speech at the Canberra rally.

* * *

We are rallying together today as part of a long historical movement for gender equality and fair pay for women.

We’re connected to suffragettes who fought for the vote for women, using meetings, leaflets, petitions and rallies to campaign for equality. They were often imprisoned just for rallying, and responded with hunger strikes but eventually at least some women were finally granted the vote in 1918.

We’re connected to women who fought for equal pay not just for work that’s just as valuable as work in male dominated sectors, but for literally the exact same jobs. Official women’s rates only ended in 1969.

We’re connected to nurses in Victoria who, in 1986, went on strike for 50 days for the value of their work to be recognised. They left skeleton staff to look after patients’ most urgent needs, and ran picket lines outside hospitals for seven weeks before the Industrial Relations Commission finally granted most of their demands.

Gender inequality still exists and props up the economy. In their own time, women do much more unpaid caring and housework. And in their professional lives, women far more frequently end up in professions that involve care, and are severely undervalued.

What we do as early childhood educators is education and all regulations and guidelines now recognise that and place high expectations on us. But the fact that education is also care in the early years has been used to justify dismissing and underpaying us for far too long.

The gender bias that undervalues and feminises caring roles is part of what early childhood educators try to counter when they teach inclusivity and equity. We want children we educate to grow up in a world where gender doesn’t determine what they feel they can do for a living, or how much money or respect they earn for it.

We want care and education of the next generation in their early formative years to be fully recognised and respected as a valuable profession. And paid accordingly.

We need to be bold and determined to win this battle, as other women have been before us.

Many of us walked off the job today for the second time this year, and we need to keep doing it till we win. We need to convince all our colleagues to get involved, and all our networks to support us. We need to make ourselves a movement that’s impossible to ignore. Each of us can be proud to be part of this latest movement for equality, but we also need to know we’re still in the beginning stages, and keep going, getting bigger and bolder.

If we don’t fight we lose, and today we’re fighting, so let’s keep that spirit going until we win.

Photos from the Brisbane rally can be seen here.

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