“We are not babysitters”: Budget recognition for our early childhood educators

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There aren’t many jobs more important than our early childhood educators. Labor Senator for Victoria, Dr Jess Walsh, shares the significance of the Albanese Government supporting a long overdue pay rise for these educators – more than 90% of whom are women. 

Gemma has worked in the early childhood education and care field for close to two decades. A dedicated and passionate educator, she began at just 16 years old sweeping the floors of her centre. Now, she is the director in charge of the very same place.

But low wages are forcing educators like Gemma to abandon the jobs they love. With educators making just half the average wage, love just doesn’t pay the bills.

As a centre director, Gemma has watched dozens of educators make the difficult decision to leave in search of better pay. She even reveals that she’s thought of quitting the profession she’s dedicated her life to as well.

But now educators like Gemma will see a crucial pay rise, thanks to the announcements in the Federal Budget.

 

A workforce in crisis

Workforce shortages are rife across the sector, with over a third of educators leaving the profession each year.

It means centres have to rely on casual agency staff, or close rooms to get by.

“At one point I had no team around me, and I was relying on agency workers,” Gemma says. “Staff were just rotating through the centre. Myself and my staff were burnt out.”

High turnover of educators is distressing to children torn away from the educators they have come to trust – and it’s simply not sustainable.

It puts extraordinary pressure on those educators who remain, and it shouldn’t be this way.

Early childhood educators are the backbone of our society.

Quality education and care lays the foundation in the first five years for lifelong development and learning.

Parents know their children are developing the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they’ll need for a healthy life while they’re at work.

And our whole economy depends on this essential army of overwhelmingly female workers.

 

Valuing our educators 

It’s no coincidence that early educators are underpaid, and that they are more than 90 percent women.

For years, these women have fought to shatter the idea that they are just looking after children while their parents are at work.

“We are educators, not babysitters” states Gemma.

In recent years, the sector has professionalised with educators required to have a Diploma or Certificate III.

Educators like Gemma wear multiple hats in one day: providing a play-based learning program to each child, performing observations, supporting families with complex needs, and so much more.

It’s a huge responsibility. It’s highly skilled. And $26 an hour just doesn’t cut it.

 

Time for Recognition 

When Treasurer Jim Chalmers rose to deliver his Budget speech, educators watched on nervously from the gallery.

When he announced the government would support a pay rise for early childhood educators, a huge cheer erupted.

And Gemma was there for this historic moment.

“For the Treasurer to announce that they have a provision for a wage increase for educators is huge! It’s amazing” Gemma says.

“This recognition will mean educators will come back to the workforce. They will feel seen and respected.” says Gemma.

On top of her work as an educator and director, Gemma has been at the bargaining table, fighting for better pay for this vital sector to get the recognition they deserve.

Educators are using new and historic multi-employer bargaining laws to sit down with their employers and bargain the wage increase, along with improved professional development opportunities too.

Gemma explains that in addition to a pay rise, educators want training to better tailor programs to each child, particularly after COVID has impacted so many families and created complex needs.

 

A brighter future

Women like Gemma aren’t just speaking out for educators today; they are fighting for the future workforce for generations to come.

“We have so many advocates like myself that have been waiting for this announcement to be made to the nation. We will continue to work hard to deliver this, and we’ll stand a bit taller too.”

Families already know the importance of these roles in society. And now Government is recognising it as well.

We know quality early education and care leads to better health, education, and employment outcomes later in life.

Our educators, our children, our families, and our community deserve this change.

And we’re getting on with it.

Because we need more amazing people like Gemma, working with the next generation of Australians.

And because ensuring women’s economic security is critical to the future of this country too.

 

Featured on The Sector.