Childcare workers push for 25 per cent pay rise as fees set to reduce

Childcare workers want the federal government to give them a 25 per cent pay rise in the upcoming budget to stem the flow of workers leaving early childhood education just as cheaper childcare subsidies are introduced.

In its budget submission, the United Workers Union said action on better pay for early childhood educators was long-overdue amid fears an understaffed sector will not be able to cope with increased demand come July 1 when subsidies expand.

Debbie Zerbst added 20 families to her centre’s waiting list in the past two days alone.Credit:Nick Moir

Disability care workers received a 9 per cent bump to their minimum award wages last July, and in November aged care workers were awarded a 15 per cent pay rise by the Fair Work Commission.

The United Workers Union early education director, Helen Gibbons, said workers were continuing to leave the sector due to low pay and high stress, and the government needed to commit to a 25 per cent pay increase to give staff a reason to stay.

“It’s time to finally recognise the vital role early childhood educators play in children’s lives,” she said.

“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.”

Union member Debbie Zerbst already had 300 people on the waiting list at Clovelly Child Care Centre in Sydney when 20 more were added over the past two days.

“There is such a huge increase in demand,” she said. “What has happened is the numbers and ratios are so difficult to manage, so a lot of centres have had to close their doors because they couldn’t find staffing, so there’s a lack of places, and families are struggling to find centres.”

Providers broadly support a government-funded pay rise, and late last year a network of centres called for a 10 per cent lift to worker wages.

Goodstart Early Learning advocacy manager John Cherry pointed out there were large gaps – of up to 30 per cent, in some cases – between the wages of early childhood educators and teachers, and their counterparts with similar qualifications working as primary school teachers and teacher’s aides.

“We believe there is a very strong case for the government to fund an increase for early childhood educators,” he said.

“If we’re going to meet the challenge for early childhood reforms, we’re going to need a lot more workers by July, and to attract them we’re going to need to pay them more.”

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke told the National Press Club there was “no doubt” aged care workers would be paid significantly more this year due to the change of government, despite uniform criticism from the industry of the government’s proposal that the pay rise for those workers should be staggered over 12 months from July.

He is to meet unions and business leaders next week to discuss industrial reforms the government wants to introduce in the second half of the year, following criticism the government didn’t consult enough on last year’s landmark Secure Jobs, Better Pay laws.

This year’s workplace legislation agenda includes reforms to the gig economy, an overhaul of laws relating to the labour-hire industry, wage theft and a need to address the major health risks associated with engineered stone.

However, Burke said the government wasn’t contemplating overturning laws banning unions from charging non-members fees for pay deals brokered on their behalf, despite growing support for the overhaul within the movement, including from the United Workers Union’s national secretary, Tim Kennedy.

“In terms of priorities, it’s not in this year’s list, it’s not on next year’s list. It’s not on any lists that I have,” he said.

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