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"I'm an early childhood educator. This is why I'm walking off the job today."

On Thursday, September 7 at 3.20pm, thousands of early childhood educators across Australia will go on strike. Here, a member of United Voice explains why.

Politicians and papers and parents regularly gasp at the cost of childcare. I know it’s pricey, I’ve been there. The years my daughters spent in care steadily ate into our savings just to cover rent.

Yet I also know that childcare fees continue to be as affordable as they are, because my colleagues and I continue to be underpaid.

Government efforts to ease the burden on families seem tokenism and cowardly, when we need real change. None of us want to see families paying more, we’re there with you every day and we know how hard it is. But Australia is lagging behind in government spending on early childhood education, and it’s time to step up.

I am an early childhood educator. I have invested 14 years into being exactly who each child and family needs. Like 16 per cent of my colleagues I have a degree. I also have a diploma and I’d go back and build on my teaching knowledge base if it were financially and professionally worth it. But it’s not, because 94 per cent of educators are female. Apparently that’s still a viable excuse for underpaying experienced and qualified workers in 2017.

The numbers are pretty ugly. An educator with a Certificate III – about 12 months of training, scrapes by on $21.29 an hour. Diploma qualified staff are only barely above the Fair Work Commission’s official measure of ‘low paid’ earning as little as $23.97 per hour (the low pay threshold sits at $22.22 per hour).

Can you think of any male-dominated field paying its qualified professionals so little? How can we justify minimising the professionalism of the primary ‘village’ for 843, 000 Australian families?

Early childhood centres have become a significant community hub for families, a place where they can get advice, support, friendship and care for their whole family. But our pay packet does not reflect the hard work we do to get qualified and meet the requirements of our careers.

We’re here because we care. We’re professionals and we’re investing ourselves in the children you love. 153,155 educators across Australia, entrusted with the daily health, wellbeing and future of our next generation of taxpayers, and we’re barely paid above minimum wage.

"We're not asking to be millionaires. We're asking to be equal." (Image: Supplied)
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I have farewelled far too many highly talented colleagues because their pay wasn't enough to afford to live. I'll never own my own home, I can't afford a mortgage and no bank would consider a loan for my family. This infuriates me. It isn't reasonable or fair.

My work is phenomenally more than wiping noses and stopping children from killing each other. It's physically, intellectually and emotionally demanding. It requires skill and sensitivity, and involves thousands of on the spot decisions every day.

Today my 10-minute tea break was spent swaying with a young toddler asleep on my back as I attempted to catch my breath and eat, knowing I wouldn't stop the moment I was back on the floor. My career is incredibly rewarding and every day I see the real and positive impact of my professional skills on every child I invest in.

Research consistently shows that the first five years make the greatest impact upon our entire lifespan. Investment in these early years saves a fortune in future support services. And yet Australia lags behind other OECD countries on investment in early childhood education and care. The average early childhood spending for other OECD countries is 0.8 per cent of GDP or more, we haven't met that in 20 years.

We're out-shone by Mexico, Romania and South Korea. Think about that. Mexico, Romania and South Korea spend a greater portion of their GDP on early childhood services than Australia. What are our children worth? What are our families worth? We are haemorrhaging qualified staff over insufficient pay when children and families need consistent and qualified professionals.

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We need more educators thanks to growth in the number of children in Australia, more parents participating in the workforce, and the very necessary increases in staff to child ratios in centres.

For me? I'd like to take my girls to the cinema more than twice a year at best. I'd like family holidays to be a possibility. I'd like to keep working with the dedicated, educated and talented colleagues that make my day so much better. I know the impact I make for the families in my care, and I know I'm worth more than barely half the average Australian wage.

So we're walking off the job at 3:20pm on the 7th of September. That time of day reflects the time that women in Australia effectively start working for free because of the gender pay imbalance.

We're not asking to be millionaires, we're asking for equal pay, to match the wages of similar professions. The Prime Minister and Treasurer, could fix this today if they had the will for it.

We're asking them to care, because we do.

Pixie Bea is an Early Childhood Educator with 14 years of experience in the field, and member of United Voice.

Are you a childhood educator or teacher? How do you feel about the strike?

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