Decision pending in landmark equal pay case

It became known as the ‘EROsaurus’ by the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch. The Equal Remuneration Case (ERO) has finally concluded and a decision from the Fair Work Commission is expected between December to April.

It is estimated a million words have been generated by the Union in preparing and arguing this case. The Union has two key bases for its claim, which, if successful, could be life changing for early childhood teachers.

The first is a claim for an Equal Remuneration Order, seeking higher rates of pay for teachers in early childhood services, because they are paid less than male employees who have similar skills, qualifications and responsibility.

IEU witnesses included male engineers and male primary teachers as comparator groups with early childhood teachers, who are overwhelmingly female.

Evidence was supplied during the proceedings that early childhood education has been affected by perceptions that lower the perceived value of the work in the eyes of the community.

In particular, perceptions that the work involves caring for children and as such is work that women are ‘inherently’ capable of doing, rather than complex skills and knowledge learnt through university training.

The IEU wishes to pay tribute to members who volunteered to be witnesses in this case, and withstood grilling from opposition barristers. Centre-based witnesses included Gabe Connell, Emma Cullen, Amanda Sri Hilaire, Lauren Hill, Emily Vane-Tempest and Margaret Gleeson.

Primary and high school teachers, engineers, academics and IEU staff were also witnesses. Kenan Toker, 27, is a software engineer with Langdale Consultants who took a day off work to attend the commission in support of early childhood teachers.

Witness Jenny Finlay travelled from Queensland to make a statement. Finlay is Teacher/Director at Borilla Community Kindergarten in Emerald, in rural Queensland. She is also the Early Childhood Representative for IEUA QNT.

Rates too low

The second basis for the IEU claim is that the Teachers’ Modern Award rates have been set too low and do not reflect the proper work value of any teacher, including teachers in schools.

The award rate for teachers has not moved to reflect increases in work value since at least 1995.

The award rate does not take into consideration how much the work environment has altered over the last 20 years.

The early childhood setting comes with additional challenges of being noisy, chaotic, not in large part equipped for adults in the rooms and outdoor areas, and – necessarily – full of very young children who have little experience of working in groups, difficulty controlling emotion and following instructions.

The union argued that the award contains rates of pay that are considerably below the rates necessary to achieve the modern awards objective of being a fair and relevant safety net.

The vast majority of primary and secondary school teachers in both the government and non government sector are employed under enterprise agreements that provide for rates in excess of those claimed by the IEU.

However most early childhood teachers in NSW and the ACT are paid at or only slightly above the award rate, which means they are paid on average 22% to 30% less than their primary and secondary school teacher colleagues, and in some cases up to 49% less.

Former IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary John Quessy said “I am proud that we ran this case, proud that we committed the time, the resources and the money to see it through to the end when there were plenty of times when it looked just too hard and there was temptation to throw it all in – we did not yield to that temptation.”

Context of case for IEUA-QNT members
While the outcome of this case is critical to securing pay equity for teachers in NSW early childhood education centres – the majority of IEUA-QNT early childhood education members have, through their collective agreements, already secured pay rates which provide equity with their teacher counterparts in Catholic and state schools.

Terry Burke
Branch Secretary
Compiled by journalist Sue Osborne