A key role should be matched by decent pay

History was made this week when early childhood professionals at childcare centres around the country walked off the job at 3.20pm. They were protesting dismal pay and calling on the government to invest more in the provision of childcare.

They chose International Women’s Day to make their point, which was all about equality. 

When you take in account the qualifications needed to get into the profession – certificate 3 at the very least, tertiary level ideally – the intense working day and the huge responsibility they take on, preschool staff deserve a lot more than they are receiving.

Consider this: the average early childhood professional earns about $24 an hour; they work in an extremely demanding environment; they are vital in shaping the crucial early development of the children in their care. Regardless of their qualifications and the energy sapping work day, many of them earn less than cleaners. Primary school teachers take home a much bigger pay packet.

There’s little wonder they feel undervalued. 

We dropped in on one of the stopwork meetings in Ulladulla, where we told this was the first time staff had walked off the job.

Staff told us they were passionate about their careers but felt their pay rates did not reflect the important work they do. They referred to research that showed the first five years of a child’s life was the most important in terms of their brain development. Every activity they undertook with their children was designed to enhance that growth and prepare them for their education journey. 

They also said better pay rates should not borne by parents but the whole community through increased government subsidies and investment in early childhood education. If Scandinavian countries recognised this and acted upon it, so should Australia. 

Our education rankings had slipped behind those of other countries, they said, and the relatively poor investment in early childhood education was one of the factors in this decline.

All that aside, it stands to reason that the people responsible for looking after our most precious asset, our children, should be paid fairly for the dedication and sheer hard work they put in. Like the teachers who will take those children on, early childhood professionals are helping to shape our future.