Despite having a full-time job, childcare worker Rebecca MacDonald is rarely left with money at the end of each month.
The 25-year-old earns $49,000 per year — an amount, she says, that forces her to live with her sister.
“It would probably take half my week’s pay just in rent to live by myself,” Ms MacDonald said.
“On my salary, I couldn’t afford to eat every week or do anything else that costs money.”
Currently, childcare workers with a certificate III are paid an hourly award rate of $21.29, which is nearly half the average Australian wage of $42.84 per hour.
A certificate III is the legal minimum requirement of training for every childcare worker.
In comparison, a metal fitter, who also has a certificate III and trains for the same period of time, makes almost double the hourly rate at $39.47.
“I understand that childcare fees are very expensive, so they [the community] probably don’t realise that we’re being paid so low,” Ms MacDonald said.
“We’re getting paid $21 an hour, which is really close to the minimum wage for people who don’t have any qualifications at all.
“It’s frustrating and it makes me feel angry to be honest.
“It makes me feel angry that the career that I love and have chosen to work in is one that isn’t recognised by our government. It’s disappointing.”
‘The ball is in the government’s court’
Childcare workers — more than 95 per cent of whom are women — want change.
On March 27, thousands of early childhood educators will walk off the job across the country in a bid to get the federal government to subsidise a 30 per cent pay hike.
The protest is the first since their union, United Voice, lost a five-year battle at the Fair Work Commission for a wage increase.
But it will be the third rally agitating for a change in the past 12 months.
United Voice said this Tuesday’s action was in response to the failed Fair Work case.
“Educators across Australia are increasingly frustrated and angry that this federal government is refusing to take seriously their claims for equal pay, and they’re walking off because they demand action,” the union’s assistant national secretary Helen Gibbons said.
“The ball is absolutely in the federal government’s court. The federal government needs to sit down with educators and work on a solution.”
Ms Gibbons added that the fact the industry was female-dominated contributed to the profession’s low pay.
“Their work is undervalued as this is historically seen as women’s work, which maybe they did for the love of it, but love doesn’t pay the bills and it’s time for this outdated concept to be changed,” she said.
Coming changes to rebate won’t benefit workers
From July, the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate will be replaced by the Child Care Subsidy; a single, means-tested payment that will go directly to childcare providers and passed on to families.
But the people who look after your children will not benefit.
In a statement the Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, said he expected “all early learning and childcare centres to value their employees and pay them as much as they can afford”.
“Many already do pay above the award,” he said.
Senator Birmingham insisted “the role of government is not to run those centres but to help families access affordable care”.
Monash Caufield Child Care Centre director Rukmini Bose-Rahman said her organisation would be forced to increase fees to improve the pay conditions of her staff.
“Our fees are actually set at a not-for-profit rate. It’s really difficult to understand where the shortfall comes from,” she said.
“Unless the government steps in, it will come from families and that’s the only place where it can come from because it’s a fee-paying service.
“So if someone doesn’t pay the money, we can’t increase anything. So certainly we would be looking to the government to be funding that kind of shortfall.”
‘It is very difficult to retain people’
Parent Smita Ghat said she believed the responsibility for covering a pay increase should lie with the federal government.
“Childcare workers are doing one of the biggest services to the community because they’re not just looking after our kids, they’re bringing up the next generation of kids,” she said.
“To my mind that’s not a very small task. It requires a lot of time, effort and dedication and I witness it every single day.”
Ms Bose-Rahman said low salaries were already having an effect on the number of staff in the early childcare sector, with many choosing to move on to better-paying work.
“It’s a very real drain, it’s a serious concern, and we’ve been concerned about it for five to 10 years, watching the sector evolve and people coming in and leaving the sector. It’s a real problem,” she said.
“It is very, very difficult to retain people. These are long days, long, hard work. It’s not easy stuff. This is a professional workforce.”
Ms MacDonald said while she was not considering leaving the industry to pursue a higher-paying role, she was disappointed by the low pay rate.
“I don’t think it’s right for someone who does such a professional job, and who is raising someone else’s children, to stress so much about being able to raise their own children.”