Low-paid childcare workers’ wages are under attack from the Abbott government. This attack, which involves the government demanding childcare centres return funding given to them from the previous ALP government, has highlighted the dismal state of the industry under both the Coalition and Labor.
Childcare workers are among some of the lowest paid in the country. They earn just above minimum wage. Despite the demanding and often complicated nature of the work it is regarded as low-skilled. The fact that it is held in such poor regard by all governments and is a female-dominated industry is no coincidence.
Under the previous Labor Government $300 million was earmarked to boost wages in the sector. The Abbott Government, though it has no legal right to do so, is asking childcare centres that received the funding to return it, and cutting off the funding for centres which hadn’t received theirs yet.
Many people rightly responded to this move with disgust. It is just another example of this government’s aggressive anti-worker agenda. It laid bare the ruling class’ intentions for working people, and shows that their targets aren’t just highly-unionised and well-paid construction workers, but also the poorest and weakest sections of the class.
Childcare workers and their unions must oppose any cuts to the already dismal wages and conditions in the industry. At the same time, we can’t pretend a Labor government, or the original funding itself, was solving the problems in our industry.
United Voice, the ALP-affiliated union which ran the campaign calling for the extra funding, calculated the yearly amount required from the government to raise wages for childcare workers to a decent standard to be $1.4 billion. The ALP baulked at this amount and offered only a one-off $300 million.
This offered amount covered less than 15% of the industry. It only applied to 30% of long day care centres and was not open to preschool or after school care workers. Because of the way the funding was distributed, only the richest private childcare centre companies, with resources readily available to dedicate to fund-sourcing, were able to apply. The big issue of how to ensure the money actually makes it to workers themselves and not childcare bosses poses yet another problem.
The funding was also explained as the collective responsibility of ordinary people. Despite the fact that people require childcare because they spend long hours at work, it was never even suggested that big business should pick up the bill. Instead United Voice Secretary Michael Crosby explained that ‘this is a community responsibility, everybody’s got to pay a small amount so that these educators can continue to work in their jobs and do the jobs that they’re doing’.
The Coalition has made much of the union forces behind the funding. The reality is that even though many childcare workers belong to a union, they were not mobilised or encouraged to get active to attain this funding or defend it from Abbott. The various unions representing these workers instead prefer members to simply pay their dues and stay out of the behind the scenes deals between union officials and the government.
Our working lives will not improve unless this situation changes. Wages in this demanding line of work must be raised, and big business, not ordinary people, must be made to pick up the growing cost of childcare. The ALP has little interest in pursuing this seriously. Childcare workers need independent unions, fighting strategies to ensure any extra funding comes to us directly and not management or the boss. We need to take this fight into our own hands.
By Chris Dite