Valuing child care workers: what are you prepared to pay?

My daughter has been going to long day childcare twice a week for the last two years and absolutely loves the activities, the friends she’s made and the close bond she has developed with her carers. The carers work so hard each and every day to make the environment fun and educational for children. They also genuinely care and are dedicated in providing the best for the children in their care.

But scandalously, these dedicated carers are paid less than someone who fills the shelves at the local supermarket. It’s completely unfathomable to me why the dedicated people who care and teach our precious young children are paid so lowly. They are required to get qualifications; they are required to work long hours; they create a learning environment which nurtures our children’s minds in the formative years before they start formal education, and yet, they are not considered worthy of pay that recognises their qualifications and their dedication.

Unfortunately this situation is all too common in industries that are heavily dominated by female employees. The job of caring for young children is identified as ‘women’s work’, therefore it is deemed less important to reward employees with higher pay than men performing comparative work with qualifications and work conditions. These employees are far from baby sitters, so why should they be paid as if they are? Systematic workplace bias has meant that ‘women’s work’ is less important than ‘men’s work’ and over time this has translated into lower pay.

The child care industry isn’t the only industry that this affects. Aged and disability carers face the same pay discrepancies for no particular reason other than caring is seen as a job for women. Our society has decided that work that is deemed domestic and traditionally performed by women in the home is of lesser value and that women who perform this work do so because of an innate ‘natural’ ability to care for others. It’s time that we begin to value the important work that carers and child care teachers perform in our community. It’s often physically and emotionally draining work and therefore should be remunerated accordingly.

The Federal Government is currently considering the findings of a Productivity Commission report into the current child care industry, but by confirming that any changes made will not result in increased funding, means that they will have little impact. Making changes to how families pay for child care will not improve child care worker remuneration, staff availability, or child care place availability. A case currently before FairWork Australia argues that ongoing gender bias in the child care industry has resulted in the under evaluation of wages. This case is similar to one argued and won by aged and disability carers, however with the change in government, any decisions made in support of increasing wages for this industry will be met with resistance and derision.

I’m not surprised by the high level of staff turnover at my daughter’s childcare centre, or the fact that they sometimes find it difficult to fill positions. I definitely don’t blame the staff for leaving for better pay and conditions in another industry. We should stop expecting them to do their jobs for less pay just because they are passionate about the work they do. And yes I know that it translates to higher costs for families, but if we are really serious about valuing the work of child care workers, who teach and develop our young children at a critical time in their lives, we shouldn’t hesitate to pay more.

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