Unite for change: IEU launches pay rise campaign for preschools

IEU members unite for change at the pay rise for preschools campaign launch on 5 April

The IEU has launched a campaign calling for a substantial pay rise for teachers and educators in community-based preschools in NSW.

On Friday 5 April a big group of passionate preschool teachers from across NSW gathered at the IEU’s Sydney office to launch the Unite for Change campaign and prepare for their part in it.

Many teachers at the forum said that without urgent action they feared for the future of community preschools.

“We don’t have enough students coming through the system who want to work in community preschools,” said Tash Smith, a teacher at East Lindfield Community Preschool. “Once my generation finishes up, who will replace us?”

Many graduate teachers opt to teach in schools or preschools that are attached to public schools where they are paid the same as school teachers.

This pay inequity has led to a staffing crisis that is threatening early childhood education.

Beginning preschool teachers are paid just $67,513 a year under the applicable modern award, while their colleagues in schools are paid $85,000 a year.

For experienced preschool teachers under the modern award, the top rate is $86,876 per year. In comparison, a teacher with the same level of experience working in a NSW government school is currently paid $122,100 a year.

Many preschools, one agreement

Community-based, not-for-profit preschools are run by voluntary parent committees of mums and dads. Preschools provide high-quality early childhood education to many children throughout NSW, but they need help to address the workforce crisis that is threatening early childhood education.

“For too long, the work of preschool teachers has been undervalued,” IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary Carol Matthews said.

“It’s time for a fair deal for preschools. Respect the profession, pay teachers and educators properly and invest in the future.”

The IEU is using industrial relations reforms passed by the federal Labor government in 2022. The ‘supported bargaining’ stream is designed to assist employers and employees who haven’t been able to bargain successfully at the individual enterprise level to bargain as a group.

“It provides an opportunity for us to bargain for a multi-employer enterprise agreement,” IEUA Assistant Secretary Amanda Hioe said.

Victoria’s ‘gold standard’

The forum welcomed keynote speaker Cara Nightingale, the Australian Education Union’s Vice President, Early Childhood.

Nightingale said the pay and conditions of early childhood teachers in Victoria are equivalent to school teachers under the hard-won Victorian Early Childhood Teachers and Educators Agreement 2020 (see page 5).

Nightingale said the Victorian agreement is considered to be “the gold standard we need to get the rest of the early childhood education and care workforce up to”.

The Victorian model provides a reason for optimism. “If there’s a model in Victoria that works, why not get that enterprise agreement here?” Lawson Community Preschool teacher Meg Lockley asked.

IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Assistant Secretary Amanda Hioe

IEU members at the campaign launch

Industrial Officer Michael Aird

“People who are on early childhood wages can’t afford housing. They can’t afford mortgages and they can’t afford rent.”

Can’t afford rent or mortgages

The supported bargaining process would enable the union, the NSW Government and employers to work together to lift pay and conditions across the sector and solve the staffing crisis.

“We see this campaign launch as an opportunity to make a difference. We would really like to see a much more systematic approach to getting better pay in preschools,” Matthews said.

“The aim of our preschool campaign is to create real, lasting improvements going forward. Enterprise agreements can be renegotiated and improved on a regular basis.”

The forum was covered in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 7 April, with two IEU members, Phillipa Maher and Melinda Gambley, as well as Matthews, interviewed.

Gambley, of Clunes Community Preschool near Lismore, said “people who are on early childhood wages can’t afford housing. They can’t afford mortgages and they can’t afford rent.”

The IEU is calling for NSW government-supported pay rises that properly value the work of preschool staff.

“We need a 25% increase for beginning teachers and more for experienced teachers working in preschools,” Matthews said.

“Preschool teachers in other states and territories receive pay rates comparable to school teachers.

“The NSW Government has already shown its commitment to teachers in schools by taking real action to address teacher shortages.

“Now we must focus on the needs of our preschools. We urge the NSW Government to step up and address the staff shortages caused by inadequate pay and conditions in community-based preschools.”

Quality counts

It is widely accepted that high-quality early childhood education is crucial to brain development and fundamental to achieving lifelong learning outcomes. It lays a strong foundation for academic success as children progress through school and beyond.

“If preschool teachers were paid comparably to school teachers, they would be more likely to enter the sector and less likely to leave,” Matthews said. “Teachers, children, parents and the community at large only stand to gain from a strong preschool sector. We need to unite for change.”

Addressing the forum, IEU industrial officer Michael Aird said: “The equity with school teachers is not there – it’s not a fair deal.

“Supported bargaining can change that. The government needs to take stewardship of the sector and tell employers to pay people properly. We need people doing degrees to want to enter this profession. We cannot win this campaign without building our community.”

Teachers at the forum were enthusiastic about the IEU’s campaign and determined to play their part in their preschools.

“Supported bargaining has been on our radar for some time and we were thrilled the IEU is taking up the case on behalf of preschool teachers,” Byron Bay Preschool teacher and President of the Northern Rivers Preschool Alliance, Bridget Isichei, said.

Delegates are diamonds: Meet the dedicated ambassadors who joined us for our forum and campaign launch on Friday 5 April.

Energy and excitement in uniting for change: Hear from the IEU's Vice President Early Childhood Services Michelle Thompson

Game changer

Victorian preschool teachers set a precedent

Conditions in the Victorian Early Childhood Teachers and Educators Agreement 2020:

  • Pay parity with teachers in schools
  • Maximum teaching time: 25.5 hours per week
  • Minimum planning time: 12.5 hours per week
  • Paid term holidays: 50 days annual leave
  • Time for educational leader and/or nominated supervisor: 1 hour per week
  • Organisational days: 3 days
  • Professional development days: 2 days paid
  • Time for mentors: 4 days
  • Personal leave: 15 days upon commencement
  • Family and domestic violence leave: 20 days paid leave
  • Family leave: 16 weeks and 4 weeks for secondary carer
  • Employee assistance program
  • Any required paid out-of-hours work to be by agreement, with 14-day written notice period
  • Union training leave: up to 5 days per year.
Sue Osborne, Monica Crouch