Opinion: Comment on the news that pay equity deal will see women in education support roles receive 30 percent pay rise

16 August 2018

We noted the announcement reported on the Stuff news site (Jessica Long (14 August 2018) Pay equity deal will see women in education support roles receive 30 per cent pay rise Stuff) that 329 Education Support Workers (ESWs) are to receive a 30% pay increase and that it is aimed at those ESWs retained directly by the Ministry of Education. The Early Childhood Council's (ECC) enquiries of the Ministry highlight that they have again not yet thought about the impact on any ESWs employed by childcare centres.

The move by union NZEI to seek such a massive increase in ESW pay rates will, for some, be well-overdue. For others, this may well impact negatively on the most vulnerable of families and children in our care. Emerging from the debate that led to this negotiated settlement is a call for all ESWs to be qualified, essentially turning the ESW role (over time) into a specialist role equivalent to early childhood education (ECE) teachers. Whether this proposal gathers interest or not is likely to be an issue for the Education Workforce Strategy currently under development.

A series of more immediate impacts are likely to hit our sector:

  • The 30% increase in education support worker (ESW) pay rates will create a ripple in ECE as those traditionally paid more than ESWs seek to have their wage rates increased by a similar level so as to maintain the previous degree of difference between ESW pay rates and their own. In other words, ECE teachers may well seek such a significant increase too. But it doesn't just impact on those traditionally paid higher rates than ESWs. It also has an impact on those traditionally paid less, as the increase will "draw" those on lower pay rates up the scale to maintain balance.
  • What of the ESWs that are employed directly by centres? The Ministry of Education has, at times, pushed the idea that ESWs should be employed by the centre and not the Ministry. The latter provides the funding to the centre. While, for some situations, this solution has appeal, following the current announcement those centres employing their own ESWs are now facing a significant risk as their ESWs demand a similar increase for doing the same work. The ECC has already approached the Ministry of Education about this risk and been advised they haven't started thinking about that yet. Unless the Ministry moves to provide more funding to those centres, or takes over the employment responsibility of those ESWs, centres will suffer another financial hit and families and children face the likelihood of service cuts and/or increased fees.
  • The wage rate hike for ESWs is compounded for centres by the increase in the minimum wage, the emphasis on the so-called "living wage", the current negotiations for primary teacher pay rates, and the current ECE teacher shortage. These issues all impact on a childcare centre's ability to plan, and manage their viability - for some already at a tenuous point.

There is little sympathy from government. The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was reported in media on Monday that she will be "...focussing on getting businesses on board" with the government's efforts to develop a modern economy. This modern economy currently just wants to pay people more without any consideration of performance, and in the ECE sector's case, without any corresponding increase in subsidy funding.

Budget 2018 delivered a 1.6% increase in the per child subsidy rate - or about $10,000 a year for the average childcare centre. We know that an average of 54% of all revenues in a childcare centre go toward salaries and wages. On that basis, why wouldn't the annual increase across all staff in an average centre be closer to $5,400 (or around $450 per person per annum)?

We are not saying that ESWs, or teachers for that matter, are not worth more. But in a sector so heavily regulated and subject to government subsidisation, an increase to the subsidy level must accompany any move in wage rates and must take account of the ripple effect such movements create.

Peter Reynolds

Early Childhood Council

Chief Executive Officer

To read the Stuff article mentioned above, please go here: