The legacy of Rosemary Waite: the pioneer behind your next pay rise
Multi-employer bargaining is a once-a-lifetime opportunity to finally achieve fair pay for educators.
For a sector that has been largely reliant on Award wages, it seems to have come about quite suddenly. However, the reality is this journey started long ago, and we likely wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for the foresight and ambition of a woman called Rosemary Waite.
I first met Rosemary back in 2008 when she was in her 70s and I was a young woman in my first real job. We made a very odd couple. Rosemary was a neatly dressed, kind-looking older woman who reminded me of my nan. However, I quickly came to understand that underneath that misleading exterior was a fierce and determined activist.
Rosemary’s career as a campaigner for the Victorian community sector began 40 years prior when she joined the management committee of Carlton Crèche. She worked as a mothercraft nurse and was a proud member of her union.
In 1978, she worked with others to set up the Victorian Association of Subsidised Child Care Centres which, following the withdrawal of the federal operational subsidy to community child care centres in 1997, became the Victorian Children’s Services Association (VCSA), operating out of CCC. She fiercely fought for the sector, appearing before Senate committees and advocating for pay rises for educators in the 2003 work value case regarding the Victorian and Australian Capital Territory Child Care Awards.
In 2008, the award modernisation process meant to simplify and reduce award complexity was going to result in the loss of many conditions just won under the work value case. Rosemary was having none of it. She would not accept for a moment that the sector would take a step backward. So, she called her old union and told them she wanted to make a new workplace agreement which would cover community services and protect everything they had just won.
She understood that standalone community services did not have the time, resources or capacity to make individual workplace agreements to protect their conditions. So she suggested making a new multiple-employer agreement, similar to the existing kindergarten agreement that was funded by the Victorian Government.
The only problem with this plan was that Rosemary did not work with computers – everything was handwritten and sent by fax or had to be picked up in person. Thus began our friendship as I became courier and transcriber in the making of the first multi-employer agreement for Victorian community long day care services.
Each visit to Rosemary included a detailed lesson on the history of the Victorian community education and care sector, from the establishment of the Victorian Association of Crèches to the original equal pay case in the late 1960s and the realities of working women’s lives before the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act.
Between Rosemary’s incredible reputation across the community sector and the union’s access to the internet, the first agreement was made in 2010 and the gains for thousands of early educators under the 2003 work value case were protected. In 2021 this agreement became known as the Professional Community Standard (PCS), covering over 120 services at its peak.
Rosemary and I worked to renew the agreement together three more times until her passing in 2018. Today, educators who are covered by the Professional Community Standard are paid around eighteen per cent above the award rate and benefit from some of the best conditions in the country.
Rosemary’s work proved that multi-employer bargaining is a model to deliver long-term sustainable improvements to wages and conditions across the education and care sector.
In November last year, the PCS was held up as an example of successful multi-employer bargaining by Federal Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke, when passing the Secure Jobs, Better Pay laws.
It was always Rosemary’s dream to be able to extend the benefits of the PCS to educators and teachers outside of Victoria. Now, with these new laws, and the ability to bring the government to the table as the primary funder of the sector, we have the opportunity to do just that.
As bargaining representative for the first national multi-employer agreement and as a peak body for community-managed education and care services, CCC is working to honour the ambition of Rosemary and the many others across the sector who have worked for decades to ensure early educators and teachers are finally paid what they deserve. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
We are representing small and community early education employers at the multi-employer bargaining table. We can represent any service that provides long day care and does not have a current enterprise agreement.
To find out more, call (03) 9486 3455 or email [email protected] This article originally appeared in Roundtable, a members magazine for educators, teachers, coordinators and directors. Roundtable magazine is published by the Community Child Care Association.
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