- The Guardian
- Issue #2040
Big Steps Campaign, Early Childhood Educators Stop Work Action, September 2022. Photo: Matt Hrkac flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)
Early Childhood Educators are demanding a 25 per cent wage rise to address a sector-wide worker crisis that is forcing centres to cut back and creating chaos for families.
In a Federal Budget submission, early educators say their work needs to be recognised with higher wages, or there will be a devastating impact on their ability to provide the quality education and care services children need.
Educators say a 25 per cent increase in wages would address years of workers being undervalued.
“Low pay and high stress mean the best and brightest educators are leaving the sector in droves,” United Workers Union early education director Helen Gibbons said. The depth of the crisis saw early childhood educators take national action to shut down the sector on 7th September last year.
“Parents either can’t get the place they require, or they are being told on a daily basis they can’t bring their children in because of worker shortages,” said Gibbons.
“Educators are barely able to survive on the wages they are paid amid soaring cost-of-living increases. As a result turnover is going through the roof and workloads are unacceptably high.
“Educators need a reason to stay and now they are calling on the Federal government to step in to lift wages across the sector.
“The whole industry also faces a surge in demand as the Federal government increases accessibility to parents through its ‘Cheaper Child Care’ reforms starting on 1st July.”
Gibbons said the Federal government needed to commit to funding a 25 per cent increase in workers’ wages.
“We have seen in the aged care work-value case a belated recognition that care work has been historically undervalued, and the same applies to early educators,” Gibbons said.
“The Federal government should also live up to its commitment to address entrenched gender bias and pay inequities in its Secure Jobs, Better Pay reforms.
“To ensure a sector that is able to continue to function, it’s time to finally recognise the vital role early childhood educators play in children’s lives.
“There will be a cost to the Budget, but the far greater cost will be the impact to children, families, workers and the broader economy if the sector spirals further into crisis.”
Gibbons said the community needs confidence that additional funding for wages is delivered to educators and not used to prop up providers.
Debbie, a centre director with Sydney’s Clovelly Child Care Centre, said the sector desperately needed stability.
“I think the strongest impact is that families who are trying to find a place for their children are finding it difficult.
“Parent benefits in July are great but they do not address the fact educators have left the floor.
“It’s a nightmare situation. It’s a combination of not enough pay, COVID, and not feeling valued.
“It’s a disgrace that educators who are trained professionals are getting the lowest wages; some are only earning $26 an hour.”
Last year the UWU released a ground-breaking report showing that early education is on the brink of crisis.
In the largest survey of its kind, nearly 4000 current and former educators revealed they are leaving the sector at record levels because of excessive workloads and low pay.
Over a quarter of current educators reported they plan to leave the sector within the next twelve months, and of those educators who do plan to stay, almost half (46 per cent) think about leaving “all of the time” or “most of the time.” In contrast, projections show the sector needs 40,000 additional staff by 2023 to meet growing demand for early learning services.
“The message from early educators across the country is clear: they are at breaking point. There is no early childhood sector without early educators, and they simply can’t afford to stay and hold it together anymore,” said Helen Gibbons.
“The pandemic has exacerbated an existing problem, with job vacancies close to doubling compared to pre-COVID levels. High workload because of increased understaffing is pushing more and more educators out of the sector.”
The report, Exhausted, undervalued and leaving: the crisis in early education, also found:
- 70 per cent of educators surveyed said they “always” or “often” worry about their financial situation.
- 81 per cent of centre directors say they have had difficulties in attracting and recruiting staff.
- 92 per cent of educators said that “under-the-roof” ratios compromise the safety and wellbeing of children.
- 65 per cent of educators report that their services are already understaffed, and providers are reporting having to cap new enrolments because they can’t find enough staff.
- 82 per cent of current educators say that in the past month they “always” or “often” felt rushed when performing key caring and/or educational tasks.
- Over 75 per cent of educators strongly agree that turnover negatively impacts how children learn and develop as well as their emotional wellbeing more broadly.
- Almost half of educators surveyed would not recommend early childhood education and care as a career.
“Services are already reporting having to cap new enrolments”, said Gibbons. “Without urgent action, this crisis will spiral out of control and children and families will miss out, losing access to crucial early learning services.
“Across the sector, educators, families and service providers are in agreement: The only way to fix this crisis is to fix educators wages, and conditions. The Federal government is currently considering a workforce strategy for early education. This is the opportunity for the government to provide a real solution for the sector: by delivering a workforce strategy that provides targeted funding to improve wages.”