Why on earth would government pay for pay rises to one small section of the economy? Do childcare educators even deserve wage increases? After all, aren’t they just there to “wipe snotty noses and change nappies”?
But as Bill Shorten said yesterday when announcing the proposed pay rise for early childhood educators being an educator is “one of the most important jobs there is”. He pointed out that the fact that they are amongst the lowest paid in the country sends a message.
“It speaks volumes for what we value as a nation, for the priority that we place on the betterment of our children and the respect we display to the people who teach them.”
Those of us that are close to the sector know that the promise Shorten made on Sunday of a 20% pay rise over 8 years, fully funded by Government, has been hard fought for by educators. We also know that most parents would not begrudge educators a cent of the proposed increases. Parents have never understood why they pay so much in fees and yet educators get paid so poorly. Parents understand that looking after children is hard and valuable work.
But to the wider community it could look like strange. Why should educators, many of whom are employed by small businesses or corporations, receive a government funded pay hike? Shouldn’t the business owners be paying?
Contrary to public fallacy, childcare isn’t a great way to make money. To raise wages without government assistance fees would have to go up.
Parents can’t afford higher fees. Is it fair that the only way women (who, whether we like it or not, are still the main caregivers of children) get to participate in paid employment is via the underpayment of other women? Everyone in the country benefits from higher female workforce participation. Why should early childhood educators be the ones that pay for this to happen by working for very low wages?
We also need to increase wages to ensure we have enough educators. By 2022 we need almost 26,000, but the number of students studying for a Diploma of Early Education and Care in our TAFEs and vocational colleges is dropping. Who would be an educator when you can earn more money in retail with much less stress? We need an additional 7,000 early childhood teachers each year but only 2,000 to 3,000 graduate from our universities annually. Higher wages may make sure we get the educators and teachers we need.
But the most important reason why the Government needs to ensure educators are paid more is because of the importance of what it is they do. Human brains learn more in the first five years than at any other time in their lives. For eons mothers have stayed at home nurturing those young brains with every baby babble they responded to, every game they played with them. Neuroscience has now definitively proven that this stuff is the very architecture of human brains. It forms the very neurons that enable humans to have higher order thought such as executive function.
This is the first time in Australia’s history that we have most children spending hours away from the parents who do that nurturing, that brain building, instinctively. We need highly skilled professionals taking their place. We need people who make every interaction, even wiping noses and changing nappies, a time to do the brain building that parents would otherwise be doing. And you don’t get those professionals if the pay is crap. Instead you get a workforce filled with people prepared to earn low wages because it is all they can command. This is why government funded wage rises are important. Because the work of building brains is so very important.
Of course there is one reason why people should legitimately question why a government should pay for educator’s pay rises. That’s the wage of the boss of Australia’s biggest corporate childcare chain, G8 Early Education. He earns $800k per annum. Surely if the company can afford to pay their CEO that, they can afford to pay their educators a tad more than the $21 an hour award wage? Maybe we also need to look at where the billions Australia invests in early education and care every year ultimately goes.
Pay rises for some and pay cuts for others, anyone?