In late March around 6500 early childhood educators went on strike over low pay. The strike saw at least 320 childcare centres close for the day. This followed the federal government’s failure to deliver the funding necessary to pay the educators a decent wage.
Childhood educators are severely underpaid. A qualified full-time worker can be paid as little as $21.29 per hour. This is in stark comparison with a metal fitter who with the same level of qualification makes an average of $39.47 per hour – almost double the amount!
Early childhood educators are demanding a 35% wage increase, but they want it to be funded via increased government subsidies to the childcare sector so that the extra costs are not just passed on to the parents who use the facilities.
More than 95% of early childhood educators are women. Women are supposed to be paid an equal rate to men but, as is the case in so many female-dominated industries, low pay prevails in the childcare sector.
The increase being demanded is very modest considering the important work that educators do. Like everyone else they have bills to pay and are suffering from the increased costs of electricity and housing.
Many educators have reported that the low pay of the job puts immense stress on the workers and it is the main reason why the industry has such a high turnover of staff.
Research has shown that early childhood educators have a huge effect on children. Any society serious about raising a new generation properly would ensure that they were not only paid well but that they were afforded the best working conditions.
Clearly early childhood education is still undervalued. Historically, far from having an appreciation of the importance of early childhood education it was seen merely as care. For the most part it was carried out by women performing unpaid labour in the home.
But when huge numbers of women entered paid employment themselves there was a need for both care and early childhood education to be conducted outside the home. Rather than these services being provided based on people’s needs, they are predominately set up as profit making enterprises.
Instead of the government and employers taking responsibility for providing childcare and early education to those forced to work, they have sought to pass the costs back onto workers. Essentially many workers are having to pay (via childcare) for the right to work. And an even bigger portion of the wealth workers create is being siphoned off by the business class.
Some parents pay up to $180 a day to send their children to childcare, and costs are even higher in some inner-city areas. Parents are forced to pay such high costs while the educators see little of that money in their wages.
Where the bulk of this money ends up – along with the taxpayer funded subsidies – is in the pockets of the private profiteers who own and run the bulk of the childcare centres. While we should support increased government funding for childcare we also need to ensure that the money is not just funnelled back to the owners of the childcare centres.
The Folkestone Education Trust, for example, owns 385 centres. They reported a net profit of $106 million in 2015-16. Rather than lining the pockets of the rich shareholders this money should be going towards creating better facilities and increasing the wages of the underpaid and overworked staff. The barrier to redirecting the money towards wages and improved services however is the private ownership of the centres.
The solution is to radically overhaul the for-profit model of childcare and introduce a fully funded, publicly owned and community operated model. It could be funded by increasing taxes on big businesses, the very corporations that benefit from employing parents from working families.
If we removed the profit motive and ran childcare and early childhood education with people’s needs in mind we could free up the necessary funds to pay early childhood educators a real living wage. Conditions for staff could be drastically improved and retention rates could be raised leading to a higher quality of education.
By Kai Perry