Making the announcement on the eve of Equal Pay Day, childcare workers across the country will walk off their jobs on Thursday the 7th of September at 3:20pm– signalling the time of day that they effectively start working for free due to low wages.
Since the first protest earlier this year, the number of workers willing to be involved has tripled, making Thursday’s event the largest early education walk-off in Australian history.
And it’s hardly surprising.
Early childcare educators in Australia continue to face appalling conditions. They typically earn a meagre $21 an hour– half the wage of the average Australian. This is despite the fact early childcare educators spend anywhere between 18 months and 4 years, qualifying for their positions.
Moreover, the industry is heavily dominated by women.
Because of an historic social tendency to view early childcare educators as women who are passionate about children– who are caring, empathetic and doing it “for the love of it”, we have consequently managed to exploit an entire sector of highly skilled workers for decades.
But the stark reality is that early childcare educators regularly find it difficult to make ends meet. Those who live and work in urban areas are often living close to the poverty line, struggling to pay rent, bills and other basic living costs.
Working for the love of it, doesn’t quite cut it, in this regard.
According to The assistant national secretary of the United Voice Union, Helen Gibbons, around 180 staff leave the industry each week because they simply cannot afford to stay.
The government continues to stall on the matter, despite continuing protests from the sector and its’ workers. Although the case for equal pay is currently proceeding under the Fair Work Commission, the process is likely to be long and convoluted.
“Everyone knows that educators deserve equal pay now and that a responsible government would have fixed this already” says Gibbons.
Recently on the ABC’s Q&A, opposition leader Bill Shorten, alluded to a policy framework the ALP was working on to address the issue of the gender pay gap, particularly in female-dominated industries like early childcare.
Last month he delivered a speech to caucus highlighting this issue once again.
‘We talk about millionaires getting tax cuts, large multinationals getting $65 billion … but millions of working Australians have had no wage rise for the last three years’ he said.
While Shorten is yet to make a statement on the details of this policy, it’s encouraging to see the ALP acknowledging the issue.
Let’s hope the government can do the same and more. It’s time we turned the page for Australian early childcare educators, who are doing a bloody tough and important job.