More than just babysitters

Image Source: ABC News

By Josh Brine | @Josh_Brine

Childcare workers play a vital role in the development of young children; it’s time they got paid like it.

Debates around the economics of childcare have often focused on the cost for parents and caregivers.

In 2018, the average Australian family paid about $460 a week to send their child to an early childhood education centre full-time, a Productivity Commission report showed.

The Coalition Government, under both Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, committed to increase subsidies for childcare to reduce the cost of living pressures on families and increase participation in the workforce.

However, the Government has refused to act on educator wages.

The minimum wage for Certificate III-qualified childcare workers, who make up almost half of the workforce, is less than $24 per hour.

This means a full-time worker makes less than $50,000 a year, and most educators are only on part-time contracts anyway.

According to a 2006 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australian early childhood educators often have more responsibility and less planning time than school teachers, despite having lower wages and status.

Even qualified teachers at non-school centres are paid less than those at school-based early learning centres, which is puzzling considering they both perform similar roles with the same qualifications.

Not only do the low wages earned by childcare workers around the country impact those in the industry now, but it also discourages those with a passion for early childhood education from entering the workforce.

For the best and most passionate young educators, working in early childhood is just not a financially viable option, and this only works to harm the quality of education young children receive.

The education children get before they go to primary school is incredibly important, and the idea that childcare centres do not have the same responsibly to educate children that schools do is just false.

This time in a child’s life is when they do the greatest amount of development, with the highly impressionable young brain being greatly influenced by experiences during this period.

Ensuring that all children have equal access to an excellent education is an important issue, requiring government intervention to both reduce costs for parents and encourage more quality educators to enter the field, primarily by enforcing a wage increase.

But the Coalition is defiant in not acting to improve educators’ wages.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told ABC’s 7.30 in May that “it is up to the market to ensure that wages increase”.

But the only way for ‘the market’ to increase wages would be by increasing fees for parents who already struggle to pay the exorbitant costs of sending a kid through childcare.

Even then, the Government already pays up to 85 per cent of a family’s childcare fees under the Child Care Subsidy scheme, so the Government would end up footing most of the bill for the pay increase anyway.

The Morrison Government need to directly supplement the wages of early childhood workers and recognise the important role educators play in both setting children up for future success and allowing parents to work.

Otherwise, they will face the consequences of an understaffed and undervalued childcare sector.

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