“Our educators deserve fair pay”: Why my team and I walked off the job

On Wednesday 5 September, Sarah Wilcox and her team of educators at Treehouse in the Park Early Learning Centre joined her colleagues from Northside Community Service and other services in Canberra in closing early and rallying for equal pay. The next day, Sarah sent the following letter to the families at Treehouse.

Dear families,

I would like to sincerely thank all of you for your support, words of encouragement and tokens of appreciation this week as we fought for our right for equal pay. Yesterday after we marched from Glebe Park through to the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre, we all assembled in one of the large meeting rooms where some formal proceedings took place.

In my 20+ years of working in education and care, I have never participated in any type of protest or march such as this. I have however spent a great deal of time doing advocacy work for educators at local government level lifting the knowledge and importance of the work we do with children every day.

I will be honest, the reason why I have never participated in protest is most likely that because after years of fighting the good fight, I feel a bit defeated.

Yesterday, during the speeches, I heard the phrase “We are not glorified babysitters!’” on more than one occasion. Hearing that term still makes my jaw clench to this day.

Due to the great amount of support we had from you all this week, I am sure I do not need to go into detail about what our job involves and how we have chosen this as our career path, just like many of you have chosen your careers. I happen to like my job, a lot. Although we all have ‘one of those days’ occasionally, I feel privileged I can be a part of each of your lives and watch your children develop, grow and become active citizens of this community on a daily basis.

The current state of affairs with educator wages is appalling and embarrassing as a nation. People wonder why there is so much turnover in this sector, but when you have to compete with jobs in retail and the public service, which offer more per hour than our Diploma- and Degree-trained educators, you begin to understand.

Whilst there has been a lot of work done around boosting early education as a profession, we still have a long way to go. It goes a lot deeper than comparing jobs.

We all know that brain development begins in the womb and then most rapidly in the first five years of life. We offer early education from 6 weeks of age to six years of age, so we have a significant role to play when it comes to the brain development of young children.

Most of our educators will be earning $22 – $26 per hour, meanwhile the employee up the road at IGA is earning more to scan a few packaged and fresh food items. No offense to supermarket employees – I used to be one myself and probably earned the same at the age of 15 in the supermarket, than when I was a Team Leader of a nursery room back in 1996.

Educators from the four Northside Early Childhood Centres at the Big Steps Rally event on Wednesday September 5 2018.

We are a heavily regulated profession with a lot of (mostly needed) red tape, and so it should be. When you have set ratios of 1:4 (birth to two years), 1:5 (2 – 3 years) and 1:11 (a huge jump for 3 – 5 years), we need to have some really clear guidelines, regulations, policies and procedures in place. This is supported by the National Quality Framework which includes the Education and Care Services National Regulations, The Education and Care Services National Law, The National Quality Standard and The Early Years Learning Framework.

We are not dealing with packaged food here, we are responsible for the lives for young children.

We are dealing with small humans who deserve to have this governance in place. For the work our educators do which includes a lot of documentation, checklists, summative assessments, reporting, courageous conversations with families, dealing with conflict, comforting, applying first aid, participating in care rituals, whilst maintaining a happy disposition, our educators deserve fair pay.

This is not a stopgap. As house and food prices, interest and taxes all increase, how are we to persuade young people into a career in which they will most likely never be able to afford to buy an apartment, let alone a house.

We wonder why we don’t have more male educators working in the sector, the pay is not equal compared to other physically laborious jobs. Australia is lucky that we have any early education services open at all.

The current government should be ashamed. They would not last a day in the shoes of an educator getting paid $22 per hour.

Congratulations to Northside Community Service who is the first organisation I have ever worked for who closed their doors for this national day of action. What is it going to take for change to happen? Do we need to close the doors more often and walk off the job? At what cost, because the ones who would suffer the most would be the children.

Thank you to each and every educator at Treehouse, your hard work does not go unnoticed. Your professional positive attitudes are something to be admired. I am stoked to be working with such a great team who always place children’s needs before your own.

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