By Lanie Tindale
Sydney childcare educators left work early on Wednesday to gather in Martin Place to protest low wages.
Childcare union United Voice wants the federal government to increase the award rate by 30 per cent.
Child care educators currently earn a minimum of $22 an hour, but say they should earn the same as workers in the manufacturing sector.
Educator and United Voice union member Nicole Webber said her wage hasn’t changed since she started working in childcare thirty years ago.
“We build relationships with children, make them feel secure…so the parents can actually go out and earn their living,” said Ms Webber.
She said a higher minimum wage would provide better financial security.
“It would make so much difference because it is a profession with a lot of training, and a lot of hard work goes into raising beautiful little children to be good citizens.”
The United Voice union estimates the strike impacted 40,000 families as over 6 thousand educators stopped work across the country.
United Voice delegate Helen Gibbons said some centres closed down “for the full day” on Wednesday September 5.
Father of two, Cameron Wright, signed a petition in support of the campaign organised by child care union United Voice.
“These people have got a very important job, and they need to be rewarded for that job.”
Mr Wright, who sent his children to childcare, said that low wages meant “maybe the better educators end up finding other work to do…you end up with maybe not the best educators in the job and I think our kids will suffer as a result”.
Wednesday’s strike was the fourth childcare worker strike in 18 months, with more than 30 centres in Sydney closing at 1pm.
NSW Early Childhood Minister Sarah Mitchell said on Tuesday child worker pay rates are not the NSW government’s responsibility.
“When it comes to issues of pay parity yes…I’m aware of those matters…but ultimately the rates of pay are set by the Fair Work Commission at a federal level,” said Ms Mitchell.
“I’m aware of the intention of industrial action tomorrow but it’s ultimately a matter for the Federal Government and the Fair Work Commission.”
The federal government Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, told AAP the government doesn’t set pay rates for the childcare sector.
“The federal government does not own or run childcare centres and does not set pay rates in the industry.”
A five year battle to raise the award wage by 35 per cent was dismissed by the Fair Work Commission this year.
The commission said United Voice and the Australian Education Union failed to produce “any evidence whatsoever” that childcare work was undervalued.
The full bench dismissed the application saying that they produced no evidence that men doing work of the same value were paid more.
The minimum wage is $18.29 an hour, and educators earn a minimum of $21.29 an hour.
The National Quality Framework for early childhood education and care requires at least 50 per cent of educators in a centre to have or be working towards a Diploma or Bachelors degree.
All other child care workers must have, or be working towards, a Certificate III.
Educators and unionists claim childcare workers’ low pay contributes to the gender pay gap.
Educator and unionist Gwendolyn Alcock said: “Early childhood educators are educators and teachers first…It’s not on parity with raising kids at home.”
“It is 2018, my gender does not dictate my worth, my gender does not dictate my professionalism, and my gender should not dictate my pay.”
The Federal Shadow Minister for Education and Women, Tanya Plibersek, spoke at the protest, blaming the federal government for childcare worker wages.
“Experienced, dedicated, highly professional educated women are earning 20-something bucks an hour, and men with equivalent qualifications are earning 40-something bucks an hour in another industry.
No one on God’s earth can tell me that that is anything other than gender discrimination in our workplaces,” said Ms Plibersek.
NSW Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education Kate Washington accused the NSW government of lying about how many preschoolers would benefit from a $200 million subsidy program for three year olds.
Ms Washington estimated the program would only help 5 per cent of three year olds in NSW.
The funding will assist children in community preschools, but not those in long day care centres.
NSW Early Childhood Education Minister Sarah Mitchell claimed in June the subsides will grant “universal access” to preschool for children aged three.