The Guardian 2 February, 2005

Childcare workers' historic pay win

Low-paid workers in the child care sector have had a tremendous victory after a long and arduous community campaign. On January 13, the AIRC (Australian Industrial Relations Commission) announced wage increases that will deliver a minimum increase of $64.50 per week for a qualified child care worker and a minimum of $82.20 per week for a diploma certified child care professional in Victoria and the ACT.

Handing down the decision the Commission noted that "the quality of care, and hence outcomes for children, is positively related to the level of the qualifications of the staff working with children".

Commenting on the crisis in attracting people to this important industry the decision stated:

"We have found that limited career path options and low pay have contributed to the current recruitment and retention problems ... the shortage of qualified staff has the potential to jeopardise the future of quality child care in Australia. Child care work is demanding, stressful and intrinsically important to the public interest."

First step

There are more than 80,000 people working in childcare across Australia this decision will be a first step in winning pay justice for all workers in this important industry. For the 18,000 childcare workers in Victoria and the ACT this is long overdue said LHMU Childcare Union National Secretary, Jeff Lawrence.

He said the union has similar pay claims in other states. "We will be pursuing organising campaigns with our union members in these states."

LHMU Childcare Union members in Victoria and the ACT have been waiting for more than two years for this historic announcement.

"This is a credit to the childcare union members who have organised centre-by-centre, worker-by-worker, parent-by-parent, to get widespread community support for this pay increase", said Mr Lawrence.

"We know the community recognises the professional standards, high skills and dedication our members bring to their work now they will be rewarded appropriately for their commitment."

He warned that the Howard government will have to help fund the pay increase so as to ensure parents don't pay for it out of their own pockets.

The union says parents should not have to shoulder the burden of paying these historic child care wage increases and that child care centres should not be priced out of the reach of hard-working Australian families.

The Howard Government can ensure that childcare places are accessible by putting in the funding for these wage increases.

"However, any new funding should be tightly regulated to ensure that the spreading corporate sector does not misuse these funds", Mr Lawrence said.

"The community does not believe that funds for childcare workers should end up in the 'profits' column of the childcare corporates' annual accounts, rather than the accountants column reading 'child care workers wages'".

Long struggle

When Dianne Terrance first got behind the campaign she didn't think it would take this long.

Ms Terrance, who works at the Spence Children's Cottage child care centre in Canberra, said she first became involved campaign nearly three years ago because she wanted the public to better understand the job of child care workers.

"I didn't believe then it would take us more than two years to get a result. We had to convince a lot of people to join the union and get behind this campaign.

"Childcare centres across Canberra have been complaining for a long while about the shortages of qualified workers in this important industry", Dianne Terrance said.

"No wonder there were shortages when we expected good people to work for about $15 an hour taking care of our children. This pay win will allow us to attract back to the industry qualified child care workers who can set our kids onto the right education path.

"At the time when our campaign started I found it hard to believe we could eventually win. It was difficult to get people enthusiastic and keep their motivation up many were concerned that a push for a wage increase might hurt the children and the parents."

Most childcare professionals have been paid as low as $13-$15 an hour, and will now get paid around $15-$18 an hour, under the proposals put forward by the AIRC.

The Commission recognised the qualifications of Diploma and Certificate III as the key classifications in the ACT and Victorian Awards.

The decision said among other things:

These classifications should be linked with equivalent trade rates in the proper fixing of pay rates increases from $82.20 per week for Diploma qualified and $64.50 for Cert III qualified professionals.

The conceptualisation of children's services has changed from "child minding" to one of early childhood development, learning, care and education. "The provision of quality child care is directly related to better intellectual/cognitive and social/behavioural outcomes in children ..."

A new classification structure, consistent in both ACT & Victorian awards, is to be negotiated between the parties under the direction of a separate Commissioner who will assist in the conciliation process.

The new structure may have increases in the amount of yearly increments, incremental progression based on attainment of competencies and recognition of extra responsibilities of room leaders.

This process will happen in a series of conferences starting on January 25, 2005, with the Commissioner to report back to the Full Bench on March 17.

Final submissions are to be in by March 24, and there is to be a final hearing on March 31.

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