Early childhood teachers shared heartfelt stories of dedication despite low pay with Federal Early Childhood Education Minister, Dr Anne Aly at the IEU’s Reality Roundtable on 4 November.
Dr Aly spent almost a full day listening to everyone from students to seasoned directors, preschools and long day care staff and for-profit and not-for-profit employees as they explained how workload, wages and workforce issues were affecting their lives.
Dr Aly said the problems in the sector were “not a new conversation” but “you now have a government that is listening . . . we are committed to working through these issues with you”.
Emotions were running high as some teachers explained they were resigning from the profession they love because they could no longer cope.
“I cried every day for a year coming to work during COVID. It was just huge what we had to do, to support the families, the children and the other staff. I couldn’t cope. It was burnout,” one teacher said.
Another teacher, a single mum who said she would never be able to pay off her HECS debt, relies on welfare to top up her income.
“I shouldn’t be in that position. I have five years of uni behind me. I’m a professional teacher.”
Another said she had worked as a nanny on Saturdays for many years “just to pay the rent”.
“I’m an absolute professional, yet I feel the shame of living in poverty. It’s a big challenge to my mental health.”
Another said: “You need a good partner with a good job to survive as an early childhood teacher. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Directors talked about the stress of having to negotiate their wages over and over with a parent committee; the difficulties in finding casuals due to the current worker shortage and having to cover for Cert III educators when no one else was available.
“People are losing their passion. Love does not pay the bills.”
One teacher said: “The stress comes from the gap between what you know the children need and what the funding allows.”
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Senior Industrial Officer Michael Wright outlined some of the challenges in the sector. Enterprise agreements must be negotiated on a centre-by-centre basis. This is a laborious process, and subsequently many early childhood teachers in NSW remain on the low paying modern award.
Multi-enterprise bargaining, as proposed by the government’s Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022, would address this problem, enabling teachers to ask to be included in an agreement with colleagues from other centres.
Dr Wright said pay parity for early childhood teachers with school teachers is key to making the sector more attractive. At the moment a teacher qualified to teach 0–8-year-old children can choose to work in primary schools and earn up to $25,000 more than they can in the early childhood sector.
In 2013 the IEU initiated an Equal Remuneration Order case before the Fair Work Commission, arguing early childhood teachers were underpaid because they were women. The legislation required the IEU to prove they were underpaid by using a male comparator, in this case male engineers and male primary school teachers.
Sue Osborne Journalist