Fight for justice for early childhood teachers begins in court

The IEUA’s national equal remuneration case for early childhood teachers is now before the Fair Work Commission.

The case has required extensive preparation by the IEUA’s legal team and relies on brave teachers coming forward as witnesses.

It argues that early childhood teachers are paid less than teachers in schools, despite having the same degrees and undertaking the same accreditation process, because they are mostly women.

The witnesses include early childhood teachers who will explain their roles, and equivalent male primary school teachers and engineers.

One witness is the IEU’s ECS Vice President Gabe Connell.Connell (right) was Director at Albury Preschool for almost 20 years, but recently moved into a new role teaching two days a week and acting as an accreditation supervisor for NESA.

She is relishing the chance to work directly with children again and assist graduate teachers thrive and survive in the profession.

While having some trepidation about being a witness, Connell said it was well worth it.

“As the IEU has been saying for a long time, teachers are teachers. With the same qualifications as a primary school teacher and the same accreditation, we should be paid accordingly,” Connell said.

“There’s a huge problem with attracting and retaining teachers to the early childhood profession.

“Many do degrees that qualify them to teach primary as well, and they start on $20,000 a year more if they go into a primary school rather than an early childhood setting.

“Sometimes, if there’s no job in the local primary school, they will come into early childhood then move on. That’s even easier now everyone is accredited.

“It’s regulated that children have access to a qualified early childhood teacher in an early childhood setting, but soon no one will be able to find a teacher.

“Research shows 600 hours of early childhood education delivered by a degree qualified teacher provides the best outcomes for children.”

Connell said her own preschool introduced pay parity two years ago and still managed to provide low fees for parents.

“I’m worried the private sector will put up the argument that higher wages will lead straight to higher fees and a lack of affordability for parents.

“But if it’s incremental it can be done. It’s good business management. Let’s hope sense will prevail.”

Sri Hilaire (right) is perfectly positioned to provide testimony, as she has worked in a primary school, long day care and a preschool since graduating in 2000.

While she acknowledges there are similarities between a primary teacher and an early childhood teacher’s role –working with a curriculum and planning and programing - she said the early childhood teacher’s role was broader, concerning holistic child development while upholding the National Quality Framework, which includes the national law and regulations.

“In early childhood education, there’s a wide range of emerging competencies we support through play; verbal and non verbal communication skills, social skills, creativity, literacy, numeracy, scientific thinking and developing positive dispositions for learning,” Hilaire said.

“Children need planned opportunities to develop their strengthening sense of agency, responsibility and resilience in order to see themselves as competent and capable learners. Early childhood teachers foster emotional wellbeing, support gross and fine motor skills development, and actively teach good hygiene practices and nutrition.

“They work closely with families and the community to promote the best interests of children. It is a very wide ranging role.”

Hilaire said acknowledging the professionalism of early childhood teachers would be a first step to changing the community’s attitude to the sector, so it is no longer just seen as babysitting.

Another strong witness for the IEUA’s case is Emma Cullen (right).

Cullen has taken 12 month’s leave as Director at Abbotsford Long Day Care Centre to go to Norfolk Island to help transition the only unregulated preschool to a regulated long day care centre, and generally help improve early childhood education and care on the island.

Cullen will give her evidence to the commission via telelink.

She said early childhood teachers have been regarded for too long as “nice ladies who look after children” with no comprehension of the crucial role of early education in a child’s development, or the need for a university qualified teacher in that role.

“These misunderstandings about early childhood education flow on to the respect that we receive as well as the pay,” Cullen said.

“I hope the outcome of this case can go some way to address both these issues.”

The final outcome of the case is expected to be known in early 2019.

Sue Osborne

Members’ comments in support of the campaign

“Having been a preschool teacher/director for over 37 years, the pay rate for qualified early childhood teachers has been way below that of teachers in other sectors and the workload is the same, if not more for early childhood teachers. This is an important step to bring wage parity so the sector can attract quality teachers who will stay in the sector because they are respected and acknowledged as teachers. Our children deserve quality and teachers should not be discriminated against because their skills are best utilised in the early childhood sector.”

“I have two beautiful women in my family who are both early childhood teachers. They put their heart and soul into giving the best possible care they can for the children they look after, but what is becoming the ‘norm’ is that they do not get the recognition they deserve. Early childhood teachers are entitled to the same wages as primary school teachers. They are far more than just so called ‘babysitters’. The demands are greater as they help these little people have the best start they can have in life.”

“I collect my little grandchildren from preschool regularly and these teachers are saints. Their work is hard and tiring and they have such an influence on the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. I support wholeheartedly their claim for equal pay with primary school teachers.”

“I am an early childhood educator. I have a degree. I moved out of preschool settings to focus on special education in an independent school. Before I did this I was on the same wage as a teacher’s aide at my new school setting. I also felt that I was seen as a simple babysitter in preschool settings. I learnt in my degree that the first five years of life are crucial in a child’s development and still believe this to be true. Early childhood education is my passion and this pay disparity is utterly ridiculous. I fully support equal pay for early childhood educators.”