By CATHERINE DEVENY
Are you okay with the fact that we pay our cleaners more than our childcare educators?
I’m not. And I haven’t been for a long, long time.
Particularly considering the epidemic in helicopter parenting, clipboard holding school shoppers, attachment parenting, after-school cramming classes, co-sleeping, ‘mummy blogs’ and general obsession with providing children with some imaginary perfect life.
The notion of ‘best care’ seems rather selective.
The obsession with the perfect diet, germ free homes, attempted social engineering by selective socialising, harm minimisation through choice of the correct fabrics, risk minimisation with helmets, knee and elbow pads, stranger danger and safe searches.
There has never been more time, energy and thought spent on the raising of babies, toddlers and children, yet we pay our childcare workers such dismal wages it’s leading to 180 childcare educators leaving the sector every week. That’s not good. For anyone. Kids, parents or childcare educators. Why don’t we care? We should.
Parents will brag about how much their kid’s stroller costs and rail at what they pay for childcare, often while often bragging about how wonderful the care, carers and centre is. Yet they’ll be silent or unaware about the federal minimum wage currently being $15.51 per hour, while some childcare workers earn just $15.86 per hour while the highest qualified earn only $23.32 per hour.
(And don’t give me the ‘well some get above award wage’. Don’t damn them with faint praise. Even if they are getting above the award they are still getting at least $5 less an hour than they should for their skill, experience and education. Don’t suggest they feel grateful for not being ripped off AS much.)
Childcare is expensive to provide. Fact. So too is the military, police force, hospitals, border control etc. Fact.
Yet there is no more important investment than childcare.
Childcare is particularly expensive in Australia. But childcare educators are not being paid enough. And no, parents should not be subsiding the wages of childcare workers, nor should it be the providers of care. The government should be subsidising the wages of childcare educators. Simple.
And it’s not a subsidy. It’s an investment. Smack on the wrist for me.
No one who cares for children does it for the money. But that doesn’t mean we should just let them be paid dismal wages that do not reflect the demands of the job and the skill, experience and education required.
Time this was rectified don’t you think? For the kids, the parents, the childcare educators and society. Because the care of children is the whole of society’s responsibility and the outcome affects us all.
We need to pay our childcare educators more. This is not a ‘raise’. Childcare workers are not asking for more money. This is a long overdue correction. We have been underpaying them, undervaluing them and overworking them for years, decades and centuries.
My mate Irene Bolger ran the famous nurses strike in 1986. Slogan? ‘Dedication doesn’t pay the rent’. It was very successful and made huge advances in the wages and conditions of nurses. Irene told me most of the other unions were very supportive. But there were some who weren’t. Not that the rise in nurses’ wages would directly affect them. But they didn’t want the nurses’ wages to rise because then they’d ‘just be earning the same as a nurse.’
United Voice Union (one of the largest unions in Australia with 60% membership of women, representing a lot of low paid women such as childcare workers and cleaners), are currently working on a campaign to increase funding for childcare workers nationally (to be topped up by the Government to the tune of 1.4 billion dollars)
I urge you to get behind it.
We must move our emphasis from the ‘more women on boards’ rhetoric to having women and particularly the hundreds of thousands of low paid women – paid fairly. And not begrudgingly, but happily. And a little sheepishly seeing as though we’ve dragged the chain on it and only coughed up after kicking and screaming.
What does the current funding situation say about how we value children? Parents? Women? This ‘being a mother/caring for children is the most important job in the world’ platitude shits me. If it were so great, why aren’t more men doing it? And if it were so important, why aren’t we paying the people who provide the expertise fair wages?
Lack of appropriate and affordable childcare is one of the main barriers to women returning to work.
Here’s something you NEVER hear in the debate. I think secretly, quietly, sub-consciously many people think it’s ‘the mother’s job’ to look after their own children. And if they aren’t doing it and ‘dumping their children in childcare’ it’s okay for them to be punished by expensive childcare of questionable quality that is difficult to access. And the quality of it, well we’re not going to pay these childcare professionals well, so you’ll just have to rely on their dedication and if 180 a week walk away because of low wages and the staff dynamics suffer, let alone the children they are caring for, well perhaps The Mother should have thought of that before she ‘dumped’ them in childcare. As if childcare is some sort of cop out.
Why do I never hear of fathers being accused of ‘dumping children in childcare’? Or why are men NEVER mentioned in the discussions of childcare. Why do I hear both men and women refer to fathers ‘babysitting’ their children? Er, babysitting? I think you’ll find it’s called parenting.
But most stunningly why do I hear and read about women saying ‘Going back to work is not worth if financially. Almost everything I earn is being spent on childcare.’
WHAT? Sorry? When a couple has children, childcare is a shared cost. It’s not the mother’s sole responsibility to provide and finance childcare. What has ever given them that idea? Er, I dunno. Maybe everything.
And if it’s not people seeing caring for children as ‘the mother’s job’ it’s generally seen as ‘women’s work’. Women in Australia earn 83 cents to every dollar men earn and females accounted for 65% of the value of unpaid household work.
That’s right. Pretty much double what men do.
You will hear people push this myth about traditional child rearing. Since when? Traditional child rearing is not one woman in a house with only the children she has given birth too. Traditionally children were cared for in groups by some adults, mostly women, while other adults were sorting food, supplies, shelter and earning money.
Anne Summers said in her keynote address to the State School Teachers’ Union of Western Australia Conference last year that ‘in comparable European countries childcare is integrated into employment and education policies and is either free or very affordable. Only in Australia do we treat childcare for working women as an optional extra available only to the rich. We expect far too many women to subsidise their futures by plowing all of their earnings into childcare.’
Also a small point. Childcare is ace. Most kids love and benefit from the right amount of high quality care. That is my only regret as a parent. That I didn’t have my three sons in more childcare. They only went one day a week. Wished I’d had them in for two. Not only that, I wish I had gone to childcare. I adored kinder. It was like the world was Technicolor! It would have been better for my mum who had three kids under 5, an alcoholic husband and was caring for an elderly uncle.
I met my cleaner when she was working in my son’s crèche. She is incredible with babies and children. She now cleans houses because of the money. She works half the time for double the money. I have met many ex childcare professionals who have left the industry saying, ‘Of all the work I have ever done childcare was by far the most demanding. I loved it though. The kids and the families. I only left because of the money.’
Not everyone has what it takes – the skill, the patience, the education, dedication or love – to work in childcare. It’s long overdue that we all join the chorus saying: pay childcare educators what they are worth. NOT what we have been able to get away with.
And yes, I do want informal childcare (grandparents, family, neighbors friends etc) financially funded too so people have more choices in their care for their children but that’s another column.
This Sunday, Catherine’s holding a Sunday Soiree where she’ll talk about sex, feminism, bitches, haters, offence, luck and euthanasia with disability advocate Stella Young. Want tickets? Click here.
Do women cop to much when it comes to childcare? Are childcarers not given enough money and gratitude?