Early childhood teachers across Australia paid under the modern award will receive a pay rise of up to 10% thanks to a long legal campaign by the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA).
Eight years ago, the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch began two cases at the Fair Work Commission (FWC). One essentially argued that early childhood teachers were underpaid because the sector is female dominated. The other application argued that the modern award undervalued the work of teachers.
While the gender undervaluation argument was dismissed by the Commission due to the restrictive nature of the legislation, they concluded “there have been substantial changes in the nature of the work of teachers and the level of their skills and responsibilities since 1996. This constitutes a significant net addition to their work value which has to be taken into account in the rates of the pay in the modern award”.
The pay rise of 5–10% will mainly benefit teachers in long day care centres and preschools without enterprises agreements under the modern award, but there is a scattering of school teachers employed on this award as well. Nationally, the decision will benefit approximately 12,000 teachers in about 8000 long day care centres.
There will be significantly higher increases for some teachers if they have responsibilities as educational leaders.
The FWC Full Bench found that “the exercise of professional skills and judgement, the overall work value, involved in early childhood teaching” was the same to that of school teachers.
“The rates of pay do not recognise that teachers are degree qualified professionals,” they said.
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Mark Northam said, “This is a significant win. The Commission has recognised the increasing value and importance of the work of all teachers, but particularly early childhood teachers.”
During the proceedings, the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch supplied a number of key witnesses, including Borilla Community Kindergarten Teacher/Director and member of the IEU-QNT Branch Executive Jenny Finlay, who travelled from Emerald to Sydney to testify on the increasing complexities and pressures of her work.
She described the day-to-day demands of a 132-child kindergarten serving children with a wide range of needs, including low socio-economic status background, English as a second language, First Nations background and special needs.
“I wanted the Commission to hear the story of what an early teacher actually does, how the work has changed, the complexity of the work the challenges and the training it takes to be an early childhood teacher,” Finlay said.
She said the risk assessment and risk management were significant parts of her responsibilities.
The IEU-QNT Branch congratulates the NSW/ACT Branch on the work value wage increase achieved inthe Educational Services (Teachers) Award 2020.
IEU-QNT Branch Senior Industrial Officer John Spriggs appeared as a witness in the case, adding support from an industrial perspective to the direct evidence provided by Finlay.
Achieving arbitrated increases of this magnitude is a significant achievement, given that the opportunity to conduct such a case presents itself infrequently.
While the outcome of this case means increases will apply to the minimum award rates of pay, for the large majority of IEU-QNT members, the arbitrated increases to the minimum award rates will result in no practical change.
This is because almost all IEU-QNT members are covered by a collective agreement rather than this award.
As a result, the rates of pay for teachers covered by collective agreements are significantly in excess of the award minima.
This is a direct result of the action and collective strength of IEUA-QNT members over time and reinforces the need for workers in early childhood education specifically, and the education sector generally, to be union members and negotiate collective agreements.
Northam said it was significant that the Commission had also asked all governments to examine their capacity to fund the wages of early childhood teachers.
“The Commission has requested state and federal governments consider funding early childhood sector pay. The union calls on governments to recognise the key role teachers play in early childhood education and support their work.”
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Early Childhood Sector Vice President Gabrielle Connell said: “This is a wonderful result for early childhood teachers after a long and hard-fought campaign.
“The IEU has put all its expertise and resources into ensuring better wages for early childhood teachers,” Connell said.
“It was wonderful to see it was won on work value recognition at last for the valuable contributions we make to education and our professionalism.
“This is the beginning of pay parity and it will also mean that we can attract and retain qualified professionals into the sector. This can only lead to better outcomes for children and families.”
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Early Childhood Sector Council member and Teacher/Director at Goodstart Early Learning Centre in Sydney, Amy Martin, said: “What a great win after eight years. Thank you to everyone involved who worked long and hard to get a great result in the end.
“Thank you once again for your hard work, not only that you have done for this case but the work that you do every day for the early childhood profession.”
The union particularly thanks the officers and staff who drove the eight-year legal battle, including IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Deputy Secretary Carol Matthews, Industrial Officer Michael Wright, and the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch early childhood team including Lisa James and Verena Heron.
Matthews said, “The energy and commitment of our staff and our legal team of Ingmar Taylor SC and junior barrister Lucy Saunders was outstanding.”
The Commission has yet to determine the date of the pay rise. A further hearing will examine more submissions and evidence on the impact of the decision on the sector and how the pay rise will be phased in.
To read a summary of the FWC decisions, see https://bit.ly/3h3tjAL