An ECEC educator’s guide to enterprise bargaining
The Sector > Jobs News > An educator’s guide to enterprise bargaining – will it actually lead to higher wages?

An educator’s guide to enterprise bargaining – will it actually lead to higher wages?

by Jason Roberts

June 11, 2023
Boy playing

On 6 June 2023 a group of unions with large membership bases in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector lodged an application with the Fair Work Commission to start wage negotiations on behalf of their members with a group of employers.


This is a very important development and marks the first step in what is likely to be a relatively complex process that may lead to a boost in wages for educators in the ECEC sector. 


But it is important to note that nothing is 100 per cent certain. 


There are a number of pieces of the jigsaw that must fall into place for it to end up with higher wages and this article is designed to support educators to broaden their understanding of these potentially sector changing developments. 


So firstly, what is enterprise bargaining and why is it important to educators?


Enterprise bargaining is another way of describing negotiations with a focus on wages that take place between an employer and their employees’ representatives.


It is an organised and formal process that has been around for decades and has proven to be an important mechanism to reset wages higher in environments where one party, normally the employees, consider them to be too low. 


The commencement of an enterprise bargaining process is important to educators because it heralds the beginning of a process that may lead to higher wages at some point in the future. 


Ok, so when does it start and who is involved in it?


With the submission of the enterprise bargaining application by the United Workers Union, the Australian Education Union – Victorian Branch and the Independent Education Union of Australia to the Fair Work Commission last week the process has now begun.  


Actual negotiations will not in all likelihood commence until September 2023 and there will be at least two sets of ECEC stakeholder representatives participating. 


On one hand there will be the three unions mentioned above representing their members and on the other hand there will be three peak bodies namely; the ACA, CCCA and CELA who collectively will be representing 61 employers and also G8 Education


There is a very high chance the Federal Government will be directed to participate in the discussions but this is not certain yet.


Ok, so when will the negotiations finish and will there be a wage increase at the end of it?


With respect to when the negotiations finish by the end of this year, early next year. 


With respect to whether there will be a wage increase, this question is a bit harder to answer largely because it is unlikely that any meaningful increase agreed to at the negotiations could be passed without help from the Government to pay for them. 


This is really a key point. 


There is broad consensus that educator wages are too low, however the question of funding any substantial increases without those costs being passed on to families in the form of higher fees is difficult to resolve without the support of the Government. 


So if the Government does agree to fund it what happens then?


If the Government does agree to fund an increase a new enterprise agreement will be created that will reflect the higher wages. 


The 61 employers listed in the application will then be a party to the agreement from the operative date and their educators would receive whatever has been agreed as part of the bargaining process.


But what happens if your centre was not part of the original batch?


If your centre was not part of the original negotiation that’s very much ok. 


Once the enterprise agreement has been formally launched any other provider can elect to sign up at any time with all the benefits of the funded pay rise being passed on to the educators.


And if your employer for some reason is not keen to participate, the law allows for educators, organised by Union representatives, to vote on whether they want to be included in the enterprise agreement. 


If they vote yes, then what is called a “roping in” provision will compel your employer to sign up.  


And finally, how much could the wage increase be and when would it be implemented?


At this stage it is hard to say. 


Some stakeholders have indicated they will be looking for a 25 per cent increase with others pointing at the aged care sector that recently got a 15 per cent increase.  


It’s really hard to know at this point as so much needs to happen before we get there, the most important thing being the Government agreeing to support the cost, but if all goes right the new wages may be available this time next year. 

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