kids

Exactly how much early childhood educators earn in Australia.

What is the more valuable job, working in retail as a shop assistant or being an educator for young children after completing a four year university degree?

They are both valuable. But, if you’re working in a shop on a Sunday – for example – you can earn double the amount of an early childhood educator working on a Monday, in one of the lowest paid professions in Australia, despite their high level of qualification.

That is why, in recognition that early childhood educators are grossly underpaid, the Australian Labor Party announced that, if they win at the Federal election on May 18, their Government would increase their remuneration by 20 per cent over an eight year period.

This would mean an estimated increase of $11,300 to their annual income.

So in light of this, we are taking a look at what exactly early childhood educators are paid as it stands, and why it is that they have been so under valued.

How much exactly are early childhood educators paid?

For early childhood educators who have earned themselves a Certificate III qualification, their base rate is a mere $22 an hour on casual rates.

For comparison, the average casual rate of a retail worker in Australia is $20 an hour, according to Payscale. Add to this weekend rates, and there is little difference between the two in terms of pay.

For early childhood educators, their pay can increase with qualification, but the income remains demonstrably low considering it is a professional sector.

In fact, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten shared this week that out of 96 professional sectors in Australia, early childhood education is the 92nd lowest paid profession.

early childhood educators
Out of 96 professional sectors in Australia, early childhood education is the 92nd lowest paid profession. Image via Getty.

Brianna is a 28-year-old woman from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales who worked in the profession for five years (she has since left), and shared with Mamamia the she started out as a casual after she gained her Certificate III qualification, which paid $24.55 an hour.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Once I secured myself a permanent part time position my pay decreased to $20.13," Brianna shares. "I was in the same permanent part time position when I became diploma qualified and my pay increased to $23.21."

This income can, however, depend on which centre you work in. Nick, a 25-year-old man from Sydney, shared that when he received his Certificate III he was on $22 an hour with casual rates, which has since increased as he progressed at University.

Currently in his fourth year of studying a Bachelor of Early Childhood/Primary teaching, Nick is now employed casually at a "well resourced centre" on $31 an hour.

Johanna, on the other hand, is a Diploma qualified Lead Educator in a community-based long day-care centre in North Brisbane, and has been in the profession for over 30 years.

"I am paid $27.93 per hour and work a 38 hour week," says Johanna, 49, and says she is "the bread-winner" in her family.

"My pay has increased slightly with increased qualifications, however, there is little incentive for advancement, as the increase in wages is often small considering the added responsibility and paperwork and time away from family."

Why is this pay so low?

Speaking to Mamamia, Samantha Page, CEO of Early Childhood Australia, explains that the fact this industry is an historically female based profession has contributed to it never being given the professional recognition it deserves.

"It’s always been a highly feminised profession and it’s historically been seen as just babysitting children while families work," Page explains.

"It never has been just babysitting, but there’s been this conception in the broader community that that’s all that it’s about."

Of the 194,000 workers in the Early Childhood Education industry, 91 per cent are female – with a median age for these women being 34 years old.

"I don’t know of any other work where you have to do a qualification, but having done a qualification will only earn you $22 an hour."

Page maintains that this low income has not been without dispute from those within the industry, sharing that "they’ve been fighting for professional recognition since the 1930s".

early childhood educators
"I don’t know of any other work where you have to do a qualification, but having done a qualification will only earn you $22 an hour." Image via Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

This acute lack of professional acknowledgement for those in the early childhood education industry has impacted the longevity of the workers' careers.

"At the moment we have a 37% attrition rate [annually]," Page says. For workers who live in regional areas, this jumps to 45 per cent in Australia.

The sector loses their workers for two main reasons, the CEO of Early Childhood Australia explains, and both have to do with the industry's poor income.

"People who are qualified as teachers can go to a school setting – it’s exactly the same degree, a four year teaching degree – and earn $13,000 a year more, or even more than that."

"You can’t ask people not to do that. As much as they might love working with younger children, you can’t ask them to forgo that kind of salary increase."

The second reason? Also to do with their pay.

As Page explains, so many people who have a Certificate III or a Diploma level qualification leave their careers to work in retail or hospitality, where they can receive higher pay, "with much less stress and none of the legal obligations they have working in early childhood education."

Will the Labor pledge help these low wages?

Yes. Their plan to elevate the income of early childhood educators will help provide these professional workers the recognition they have been denied for too long.

Page says that while the 20 per cent boost over eight-year plan will of course "take a while to get there", she explains "at the end of the day we need to do a structural adjustment to properly recognise the value of the work that early childhood educators do".

"And we need to do that," she continues, "to protect the level of investment that Australia is making in early childhood education".

Labor's plan will help ensure that children in Australia are receiving an excellent quality education program.

"And we can’t guarantee that unless we can keep talented, qualified educators and teachers in the system."

As Johanna, the 49-year-old woman who has worked in this profession for 30 years, says: "This is a calling and not just a job. We are developing foundations for lifelong learning."

"I would love to see our sector be paid according to the level of qualifications."

00:00 / ???