Let's not stop Pay Parity before it starts

A few thoughts on Pay Parity and calls to take a claim under the Equal Pay Amendment Act.

We support teachers getting the same pay for doing the same job - or ECE teachers working in centres and those visiting teachers in home-based ECE getting the same as their colleagues in Kindergartens.

Here at the Early Childhood Council, we’ve been asking for Pay Parity for over a decade, as the pay gap between centre and kindergarten teachers, who do the same job with the same qualifications, grew bigger.

Like many in our sector, we pushed the Education Minister to start the teacher Pay Parity journey in the lead-up to the 2020 Budget. Like him, we calculated that full parity required something in the order of $1.76 billion. This was pre-COVID-19, which brought its own implications around where the government invests its money - but more on that later.

We accepted the Minister’s approach of progressive moves toward ECE teacher Pay Parity, because we were realistic about the chances of getting everything all at once. But we’re continually frustrated by the lack of clarity and a plan for the future - how and when will ECE teacher Pay Parity be finally achieved from here?

Simple economics dictates Pay Parity efforts must be combined with equivalent increases in the government subsidy levels for centres. Money in, money out. A decade of effective cuts to the subsidy rates has pushed many centres to the wall financially and continues to do so.

No-one’s under any illusions that money is tight - but if there was a signal that realistically, pay parity will take all of the forthcoming three year government term, then at least we can plan for it.

Other changes like funding professional development, recognition of non-contact time, simple ways to improve conditions for teachers and centres. It all helps.

I want all ECE teachers in our sector doing the same job to be paid the same - I don’t want some to lose their jobs because we’ve rushed it.

I want certainty that services will receive fair subsidy increases to pay for the wage increases. Centres aren’t a bottomless well, and continually dipping into their own pockets or increasing parent fees to fix a problem created by successive governments isn’t fair.

But - we’re concerned by efforts to force the government’s hand on Pay Parity immediately, by quoting the Equal Pay Amendment Act. They may be right. But at what cost?

I’m nervous an ill-informed campaign to push for everything now will do more harm than good and prolong this unsustainable situation.

What’s the answer? Ideally, a clear message from the Minister on what’s going to happen and when, to give everyone certainty. No-one wants this issue dragging on and on and falling down along the way. Least of all children, parents, teachers or centres.