The fight for childcare work to be valued, and paid, properly

Childcare costs

The Fair Work Commission recently put an end to a five year battle by unions for a 35% pay increase for childcare educators.

The unions had been arguing that gender inequality is seeing such work undervalued.

But according to the Commission, gender inequality is not an issue. In dismissing the unions’ application, the Commission claimed they had failed to provide “any evidence whatsoever” that gender inequality was behind childcare work being undervalued.

That’s despite the fact 97% of childcare educators are female, and earning significantly less than the rest of the population. These workers take home an average $21 an hour, about half the average hourly wage in Australia. “You can earn more money working in a supermarket,” educator Kylie Grey told the ABC.

As childcare consultant Lisa Bryant writes for Fairfax, the educators’ argument had been fairly simple. They pointed to the fact society is undervaluing what it perceives as the ‘soft skills’ of such educators because they are often seen as an extension of the unpaid work mothers are already performing at home.

Seeing these skills in such a way implies that they are not really skills at all — or all that difficult to perform, or all that worthy of being paid for. It also fails to account for the value of early childhood education in improving a child’s chances in schooling (and everything that follows) later on.

It may also suggest that women will carry out this work regardless. And wouldn’t it be immediately convenient if mothers could just do this unpaid work, while also contributing to the paid economy? And if a mother can feed, clean, love care and manage a baby and toddler, surely she can also manage the pre-school component of a child’s development?

The Lifting Our Game report released last week found that Australia is investing much less in early education than our OECD counterparts. That’s despite study after study highlighting the value of early childhood education, particularly for those aged three to five.

On the one hand we’re seeing early childhood education as vital, but then on the other we’re refusing to pay for it accordingly.

Meanwhile, early educators are already leaving the sector to pursue other (and presumably better paid) careers. Bryant says that around one in five early childhood educators are considering leaving the profession due to the low wages and social status of the work. And we can’t really blame them for wanting to look elsewhere.

As Bryant notes, it may not be up to parents to demand more: to speak out about the need for educators to be valued and paid accordingly, to put more pressure on the government to do more a sector that is setting their children up for life.

The ruling now looks set to see childhood educators going on strike on March 27 in order to demand the government help fund equal pay.

Already education minister Simon Birmingham has dismissed the strike as a “political stunt”.

The below quote from Bryant is telling:

“If educators all leave, what will we do as a country when there is no one left to care for the children? It may just be women’s work, but like all women’s work you sure as hell will notice when it is no longer done.”

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

NOW READ: Research shows the gender pay gap is hurting productivity


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3 years ago

If you want to pay childcare workers more then you need to charge parents the entire increase of the new wages plus additional super, workers compo, etc. The government doesn’t want that to happen because ‘it’ knows that people then turn around and demand the govt raise the amount they pay/rebate for childcare. So the industry essentially wants to take the increased wage costs, transfer them to parents (users of the service) which then gets spread across to all taxpayers. Net Taxpayers are a shrinking component of our society as bureaucracy blossoms at all levels, special taxes kill growth in any tall poppy industry (e.g. a kill-the-golden-goose mining tax approach) and myriad interest groups (including welfare providers and welfare consumers) seem to think that government funds are endless and just magically come from ‘somewhere’.

User pays. Wages should be deregulated. Parents who value the service as more than just babysitting will then pay increased amounts for their children to attend centres that provide more. Others satisfied with simply babysitting can use centres that provide only that function. At the same time, Family Payments should be capped at 2 ‘lifetime children’ (i.e. have 2 children in relationship A, divorce, then no family payments or other benefits paid for children in relationship B). Want a big family? Fine, but FP and all child-related benefits (e.g. child care) are capped at 2 of them. You have children when and if you can afford all aspects of having children at whatever level of services you expect them to be able to experience until they are adults. Just don’t expect anyone else to pick up any part of the bill through the increased costs of providing infrastructure and services like policing, public transport, housing, education and healthcare, etc. as the amount a Net Taxpayer can afford to contribute has loooong since been surpassed. There is no more blood in the stone – the overwhelming evidence of that is the size of the country’s credit card bill (debt).