The AEU, along with the Independent Education Union, the United Workers Union, large provider G8 Education and peak childcare groups, have lodged a joint application with the Fair Work Commission to negotiate an enterprise agreement covering around 12,000 employees for 65 large early childhood education and care (ECEC) services nationally, following recent changes to industrial relations laws that make it easier to undertake multi-employer bargaining.
The Secure Work Better Jobs Act is good news for early childhood teachers and educators working in private long day care, as unions can now negotiate a national early childhood agreement with private preschool providers such as G8, Guardian, Infinity, All About Children and Busy Bees. The new IR legislation can also require the funding body, in this case the federal government, to be at the bargaining table.
The importance of successfully negotiating multi-employer agreements cannot be overstated when it comes to the early childhood sector. Within any services sector, salaries are a major cost, which means organisations try to suppress wages to maintain competitive fees and maximise profits. And when a provider squeezes wages in this way, it is workers who bear the brunt – even more so in the feminised care sector.
The Albanese government has explicitly stated that it wants to raise wages in the early childhood sector. On 1 July, it will introduce another major piece of legislation: the Affordable Child Care Bill. These changes will significantly lower the cost of childcare, enabling more women to re-enter the workforce and increasing the demand for childcare places. The risk is that ECEC services will struggle to meet the demand.
With staff turnover at around 30% in the sector, improved conditions and professional wages are essential to attracting and retaining a qualified, sustainable workforce, so that all children can access kindergarten programs taught by qualified teachers.
“We need to ensure that every teacher in Victoria, no matter where they work, receives the same pay and conditions – because that’s equity.”
“Early childhood teachers and educators are some of the lowest paid workers in our community,” says AEU Victorian branch president Meredith Peace. “Together, we are seeking a 25% pay increase for early childhood teachers and educators working in ECEC services in recognition of their status as highly qualified professionals undertaking work that is essential to our community.
“For far too long, our economy has relied on the goodwill and dedication of underpaid and undervalued early childhood teachers and educators. This is a workforce that must be supported through fairer wages and better conditions.”
The new legislation provides a valuable platform for our continued campaigning in the early childhood sector. For the first time in decades, the indication of government support means employers are open to improving wages and conditions for their staff. Currently, staff in ECEC services could be earning $30,000 a year less than school teachers with the same qualifications. AEU members will be using this opportunity to actively seek wage justice.
“We need to ensure that every teacher in Victoria, no matter where they work, receives the same pay and conditions – because that’s equity. We know this is where we need to get to,” says AEU vice president for early childhood Cara Nightingale. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but it is achievable through consistent union lobbying and the hard work of members.”
AEU early childhood organiser Max Grarock is urging all teachers and educators working for one of the large national ECEC providers to contact the AEU and get active in our campaign for a better agreement.
“It is important that all teachers and educators are represented in this process,” says Max. “Until now, there haven’t been a lot of mechanisms to improve pay and conditions for members employed in long day care, and now there are – so it’s time for us to ramp up this campaign together.”