The time is right to co-fund educator wages across the sector – and there’s already a working model
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > The time is right to co-fund educator wages across the sector – and there’s already a working model

The time is right to co-fund educator wages across the sector – and there’s already a working model

by Megan O’Connell - ELAA Acting CEO

November 10, 2022

This week, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill will be debated in Federal Parliament.


This proposed legislation aims to reduce complexity around bargaining requirements and has been promoted as a key enabler of supporting wages in low-paid sectors.


For early childhood education and care (ECEC), action cannot come soon enough. Whilst looking for interim options to support the retention of staff such as short-term wage subsidies, employers, peak bodies and unions alike are looking restlessly toward the passing of the bill to commence negotiations on new agreements.


Workforce shortages in ECEC continue to grow. We’re in a vicious circle of shortages begetting staff attrition, increasing stress, and sparking further attrition. Increasing wages to levels comparable with the school sector, for staff with the same level of qualifications, would help stop this cycle.


So why is the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation so important for ECEC?


It is important because under the new legislation the Commonwealth, as a majority funder of education and care, has agreed to come to the table to negotiate and co-fund wage increases. This is essential, otherwise, the only other option for many services is to increase fees, which would see more children and families miss out.


Questions have been asked about whether it is feasible to expect a sector dominated by many small providers to engage in workplace bargaining.


ELAA’s longstanding experience as a peak body and employer bargaining representative in Victoria shows that bargaining across hundreds of small and large early childhood providers is possible, can secure superior wages and conditions through government funding, and increases retention and quality.


The Victorian Early Childhood Teachers and Educators Agreement (VECTEA) was negotiated in 2020-2021, although earlier versions have existed for much of the last two decades.


The agreement operates for close to 400 employers across early childhood services in Victoria, it delivers wages and conditions well above the award – experienced full-time early childhood teachers in Victorian sessional kindergartens can earn more than $100,000 per annum under the VECTEA, compared to wages between $63,000 and $88,000 under the Educational Services (Teachers) Award 2020.


The agreement includes an increased 16 weeks of employer-paid parental leave for primary caregivers, 20 days of paid family and domestic violence leave, generous paid personal/carers leave of 15 days for each year of service (pro-rata), graduate teacher mentoring leave, and a state government-funded Wellbeing Support Program (EAP) for employees under this agreement.


The Victorian government supports the VECTEA through additional funding, as it provides certainty of employment arrangements across 383 kindergarten services with additional agreements for 26 services electing to ‘mirror’ its terms and conditions.


By providing better pay and conditions, the VECTEA helps kindergartens to attract and retain teachers and leads to quality delivery for children. The conditions in the agreement provide extended planning time to support quality programming.


Providers benefit as this additional time enables kindergartens to retain their superior quality ratings and remain a service of choice for families.


As part of implementing the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation consideration should be given to resourcing collective representation so voluntary committees that have neither human nor financial resources to bargain are supported.


ELAA’s membership includes kindergartens and long day care centres. We’re currently in an inevitable situation whereby kindergarten teachers in a service can earn significantly higher wages than equally qualified staff in adjacent rooms. It isn’t fair and it isn’t sustainable.


Coming up to the end of the sitting year, we would welcome a Christmas gift to the sector, a gift of fair wages regardless of where you work. The capacity for ECEC providers to efficiently negotiate fair wages with government funders could be just the gift our sector needs.


Megan O’Connell leads the Advocacy and Member Solutions function at Early Learning Association of Australia (ELAA). She has previously been Director of the Mitchell Institute and Research Manager for the Australian Education Development Census.


Megan has devoted her career to improving outcomes and access to education for children and youth and was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her services to education.

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