The system has failed educators: Shorten’s plan to fix it
The system has failed early childhood educators – “the parent’s know it, the community knows it, everybody knows it” – Australian Labor Party (ALP) Leader Bill Shorten has said during a doorstop interview while explaining the ALP’s strategy to improve wages while reducing the cost of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services for families.
Mr Shorten made the comments while visiting a Goodstart Early Learning centre in Perth with Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Pilbersek.
“Early childhood educators are the first adults to which we trust our kids, and yet they are underpaid,” he said.
Ms Pilbersek added “We know that when parents are leaving their precious babies and children outside the family, at a childcare centre, at an early learning centre, they worry about two things. They worry about the quality of the care and they worry that it’s affordable for the family budget. Nobody is going to leave their child with carers that they’re not confident of.”
She went on to say that early childhood educators deserve a pay rise “because of the skill, because of the complexity, because of their qualifications. Because of the way that families rely on the care and the early learning opportunities in these centres. Nobody in Australia believes these workers don’t deserve a pay rise.
“The turnover in the sector is too high….People leave this sector and go into lower skilled work because it pays better. We can’t afford to lose those skilled workers from this sector because of their very low wages.” Ms Pilbersek said.
Mr Shorten explained that ALP deemed the ECEC sector as a strategically important sector for Australia: “We talk a lot about the national interest but what could be more in the national interest than the quality care and education of our zero to five year olds? That is pretty important. These are the first workers, the first adults in our children’s lives we trust outside the family unit and they work hard.”
He outlined that the system has failed early childhood educators because the ECEC sector is dependent on government funding, saying there is limited opportunities for wage increases when the government funding is tight and passing on the cost onto families is not an option.
“Childcare workers (sic) are caught in a Catch-22 by the economics of childcare. If we don’t put more money into the industry then you can never get a wage rise. But if you can never get a wage rise, we keep churning the good workers.”
He explained that the ALP will “find money in an orderly manner” across eight years before “sitting down with employers, with the industry (sic), with the parents, with the independent umpire and work out how we can do it”.
“We also propose putting in measures to control prices. We don’t want to look after families and the early childhood educators to see the fees miraculously increase by the amount which we’re providing to support the teachers and to support the parents,” Mr Shorten said.
Ms Pilbersek also added that the ALP’s long-term commitment to universal preschool access for three and four-year-olds would also have a significant impact on the ECEC sector’s ability to feel secure in nurturing staff and planning for the future.
“At the moment you’ve got a Morrison government that’s only promised one more year of preschool for four year olds. They’ve been rolling over preschool funding year after year. Centres can’t plan. Community organisations that want to build new preschools can’t build them because they don’t know whether the funding is going to be there in 2021 or 2022 or 2023.
“We actually need to make this permanent commitment because we know that 90 per cent of a child’s brain development takes place before the age of five. Investing in 15 hours a week of universal access to preschool for three year olds as well as four year olds is critical to making sure our children start school school-ready,” she said.