On September 5, more than 7000 early childhood education workers walked off the job and attended rallies across Australia. The workers are demanding decent pay given a qualified full-time worker can make as little as $21.29 per hour.
Women workers make up over 95% of the industry, and like workers in many other female-dominated industries, early childhood educators are treated as second-class.
The walk off in September was not the first time that childhood educators have taken action this year. In March a similar number of workers went on strike.
The government made some changes to the way that childcare subsidies are delivered in July but this has not led to any increase in workers’ wages or fixed any of the other problems with the sector.
In fact, parents will now be required to jump through more hoops to access subsidies for their children by completing an activity test in order to see if they are eligible.
The union representing early childhood educators, United Voice, said: “Our early childhood education system is broken if it fails to deliver to children that need quality education. The new system is unequal for parents, just as the government ignoring the funding of professional pay continues to make the system unequal for educators.”
There is no guarantee that increased government subsidies, or the high fees parents pay, will find their way into the pay packets of the workers. There is nothing stopping the private operators of the centres just using them to increase their profits.
The private ownership of many of Australia’s childcare centres lies at the heart of both the high fees and low pay. The way to deal with both is to replace the for-profit childcare model with a publicly-owned and operated system.
A publicly owned childcare system could be funded by increasing taxes on big businesses. On this basis we could increase the workers’ wages while also lowering fees and improving the quality of education.
By Kai Perry