‘Don’t you just play with kids all day?’ is one of the most common things childcare workers hear. These early educators say they’re shaping and teaching our youngest Australians, yet feel incredibly undervalued. With their campaign for recognition and better wages about to heat up with a march through Melbourne, Babyology explores this divisive issue.
South Australian childcare worker Stephanie Bilsborow says those who work in early childhood are undervalued by the community: “They see us as babysitters. And it’s not good enough.”
Stephanie tells Babyology on any given day, she is nurturing, consoling and teaching dozens of young children – the same way any primary school teacher in Australia does. But, she says, she’s seen as a carer, not an educator.
“Getting the awareness out to families and the community that we do deserve more money for what we do. The hard day’s work, we put a lot of effort and training into what we do and it is important to us. And at the end of the day we want the best outcome for the children,” she says.
The average wage for an early educator working in childcare in Australia is about $20 an hour. The union representing these employees says it’s simply not good enough. Parents can pay up to $150 per day per child for quality childcare.
“If you’re caring for a three-year-old, why should it be any different than caring for an eight-year-old? Obviously the work that they do and the commitment they have is the same value as that, so what they get paid should be the same as well, ” says Helen Gibbons, Assistant National Secretary of United Voice.
“It’s also about respect and recognition. People who work in long day care and work with our youngest Australians really want to make sure that the work that they do is valued, that it’s funded appropriately, that people respect that work, and they see if for what it is – a great learning and education environment for children.”
Rebecca Swanson says the early educators at the community childcare centre she runs in Queensland punch well above their pay weight each and every day.
“We want people to understand and respect what we do on a daily basis as professionals,” she says.
There has been a victory of sorts in the sector, with the new Prime Minster heralding childcare will be moved out of the social service portfolio and into education. It comes as a $60 million overhaul of childcare continues, with the implementation of a national framework.
Federal Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham tells Babyology that the independent umpire for workplace relations is the appropriate body to make decisions on childcare workers’ wages.
“There are currently two applications before the Fair Work Commission seeking Equal Remuneration Orders under the Fair Work Act 2009 to increase wages for workers in long day care centres and preschools,” says Senator Birmingham.
“All of the evidence is in about early years education and parents are having much more of an eye to quality services and quality care and our members are absolutely on board with that,” United Voice National Secretary Jo Schofield tells Babyology. “A lot of them study for degrees in their own time, because they’re so committed to the job and to the work that they do.”
The sector plans to ramp up its campaign with a march through Melbourne on November 14.