The federal government has announced a $300 million injection for the childcare industry, which could increase the salaries of workers by 15% – but the funding comes with new rules for employers.
As part of the extra funding agreement, employers will need to pay their employees a standardised wage and operate under standard conditions in an attempt to improve the quality of the sector.
From next year, childcare workers must have at least a relevant Certificate III and each centre will need a university-trained employee. Providers must also tie price increases to actual costs.
The $300 million will be spent over two years, with Certificate III qualified workers to earn an extra $3 an hour.
Education Minister Peter Garrett said the move will help the neglected sector retain its staff.
“We know that quality early childhood education and care is dependent on having a qualified and professional workforce,” he said.
“We have listened to the sector and to parents and we are pleased to introduce this fund to help attract and retain qualified staff,” Garrett told Fairfax.
Dr Elizabeth Hill, a work and family policy expert at the University of Sydney, told SmartCompany the childcare industry has struggled to keep workers in the long term.
“Staff are moving through the sector because they face extremely low wages and their work conditions are really quite tough. They have to do some challenging jobs and often they aren’t given enough time for lesson preparation.
“They start to question if they can stay in the industry and provide for their own families,” she says.
Hill says a lot more needs to be done, but this increase in funding is a step in the right direction.
“This is long overdue and a much needed move in the right direction, but whether or not the extra $3 an hour is enough to shift this industry from one where people just move through it, to an industry where they can create and see a future and a career, I really can’t say.”
Hill says the industry has changed over time with more mothers returning to work and people generally working longer hours, increasing the reliance on childcare and upping childcare workers’ work load.
Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page told SmartCompany a longer-term funding model is still needed.
“We think any increase in wages is important and valued, but we do want to keep working with the government to establish a long-term sustainable model of improving salaries.”
“Longer term we would like a more comprehensive and sustainable initiative, but we recognise we can’t wait for that so we welcome this initiative.”