Union wins pay rise for early childhood teachers

above: IEU team, from left, Arthur Dowdle, Michael Wright, Carol Matthews and Verena Heron

Early childhood teachers paid under the modern award will receive a pay rise of up to 10% thanks to a long legal campaign by the IEU, Journalist Sue Osborne writes.

Eight years ago, the IEU 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 pay in the modern award”.

The pay rise of 5-10% will mainly benefit teachers in long day care centres under the modern award, but there is a smattering 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 and also teachers in pre-schools who are paid on the modern award.

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 as 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.”

Northam said it was significant that the Commission had also asked 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.”

IEU Early Childhood Sector Vice President and NESA Accreditation Officer 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.”

IEU Early Childhood Sector Council member and Teacher/Director at Goodstart Early Learning Centre Cromer 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 Deputy Secretary Carol Matthews, Industrial Officer Michael Wright, and the early childhood team including Lisa James, Tina Smith 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://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/documents/summaries/2021fwcfb2051-summary.pdf