Peak ECEC bodies welcome weekend Labor announcement on wages and cost of care
Peak early childhood education and care (ECEC) bodies including Early Childhood Australia (ECA), Goodstart Early Learning, the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia (ELACCA) and the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) have welcomed the announcements from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) over the weekend in relation to educator wages and the provision of substantial new commitments to improve ECEC affordability.
Child Care Subsidy and affordability measures
ECA welcomed the ALP pledge to increase the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) available to households with incomes of up to $174,000 per year, and to increase the pay for early childhood educators by 20 per cent over eight years, with CEO Samantha Page saying the organisation would be “happy to work with an elected Labor government to maximise benefits to children, particularly those at risk of educational disadvantage”.
Ms Page said ECA were also pleased with the promise made by the ALP to urgently review the Childcare Safety Net, adding that the organisation would like to see this include a review of the activity test – which ECA said was “too complex and confusing”.
Her sentiments were echoed by ACA President Paul Mondo who said the announcement represents “an enormous step forward” as his organisation has been “actively calling for a revision of CCS parameters to bring all families back into the picture”.
A review of the Additional Child Care Subsidy was also welcomed by ACA, with Mr Mondo saying it was an integral part of ensuring that those families who require the support of the Childcare Safety Net could access the available subsidies as soon as possible, via a simple process – something Mr Mondo said ACA had been advocating for since the transition to the new system.
ELACCA CEO Elizabeth Death highlighted the importance of the CCS and Additional Child Care Subsidy review, noting that currently one in five Australian children start school developmentally behind their peers and often don’t catch up, saying it was “critical that high-quality early learning is universally accessible and affordable for every child, with targeted strategies for children and families who need it most”.
Goodstart CEO Julia Davidson also welcomed the commitment to review the CCS, saying “This needs to be the first priority of government regardless of who is elected, and we are committed to working with the next government to ensure that childcare and early learning is accessible and affordable, particularly for low income and vulnerable families.”
ECA said it has found that families with irregular work or multiple barriers to work or study are assuming that they cannot pass the activity test, where both parents must show they are working, studying or volunteering for eight hours or more each fortnight and children who would benefit the most from early learning are missing out.
Providing a perspective on behalf of families accessing ECEC, Executive Director of The Parenthood, Alys Gagnon, said the announcement was “particularly welcomed” by families earning less than $69,000 a year.
“For many parents and carers, early childhood education fees present a barrier to work, especially families struggling to get by on a low income. This is huge. There’s really no other way to describe it. Early childhood education is great for children and making it easier to afford is wonderful for parents,” Ms Gagnon said.
Educator wages were also a key focus of the announcements over the weekend, with the potential, ECA said, to increase average total wages of early childhood educators by an estimated $11,300. This increase was welcomed by ECA as an indication of the value of the work done by the profession.
“We look forward to working with an elected Labor government to develop a national workforce strategy to ensure that Australia has enough well-qualified professional early childhood educators and degree-qualified teachers to provide quality early childhood education to all children,” Ms Page said.
ECEC union, United Voice, described the announcement as marking “a historic win” and as “a truly significant day for Australian educators, parents and children”.
“The fact that 96 per cent of the ECEC workforce are women and wages are so appallingly low, is no coincidence. The announcement today is as much a win for pay equality, as it is a win for the sector’s undervalued professionals,” Assistant National Secretary of United Voice Helen Gibbons said.
“Almost one million Australian families have young children in early childhood education. Professional pay will stop educators leaving the sector at an alarming rate of 37 per cent annually, which is roughly double the national average. This turnover impacts thousands of children and families every day. Professional pay means educators can develop close, ongoing and engaging relationships with children in high quality learning environments. Parents know that continuity of care is crucial for our youngest learners,” she added.
Speaking on behalf of Goodstart Early Learning, Ms Davison said that educators have “been waiting a long time for this reform and the sooner it is delivered the better. It is a reform that all sides of politics should support.”
Mr Mondo said it was encouraging to see the ALP acknowledge that families cannot be out of pocket to fund an increase in educator wages, welcoming the commitment to fully fund the proposed 20 per cent wage increase for a period of eight years.
However, Mr Mondo said, the ACA is “keen to understand in greater detail this policy announcement to ensure that families are not left worse off and to ensure that this additional support is fully funded for perpetuity and the long-term viability of the early learning sector”.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) were also welcoming of the proposal in relation to wages, saying “The highly skilled work done by the mainly women who work in this sector is grossly undervalued and they deserve higher pay and recognition for their important work.”
A variety of campaigns to showcase the value of early learning are being run in the lead up to the election, including Early Learning – Everyone Benefits, Launch into Learning, and Best Start in Life.