Speech on Early Childhood Educators

7.50pm | February 06, 2018


Early childhood educators perform some of the most valuable work in our society for less than half the average Australian wage. Anyone who has had a child attend child care knows the importance of a good teacher and how central they are to a child's life. They are the people that we trust to be there when we can't be there. They help prepare our children for a lifetime of learning, and they do all of that for as little as $21 an hour. Early childhood workers stay in the industry despite the wages, not because of them. They love their work; they love our children; but they should not be expected to work for love alone. For almost five years, their union, United Voice, has been running a campaign before the Fair Work Commission to try and change this.

Early childhood education is historically a low-paid profession; it's also historically a female profession; and the two facts are not unrelated. There is a robust body of academic research that shows that child care is one of the many sectors that has been underpaid because of a pronounced tendency to undervalue work that is performed mostly by women—caring work, work that looks a lot like the work that women do for free in the home. Last year, I led an inquiry into the consequences of gender segregation in the workforce. We found that this tendency to undervalue women's work is one of the key drivers of the gender pay gap.

Today, however, the Fair Work Commission dismissed the attempt to correct in historic undervaluation of women's work in the childcare sector. The ruling confirms that our industrial relation system has no workable solution to the gender pay gap. It may be able to help an individual worker facing discrimination. It has very little to offer a whole sector of historically underpaid women.

The union spent years working with a top legal team to find a way through the rules to achieve wage justice for thousands of women. It should not be this hard, it should not be this long, it should not be this complicated and it should not be this expensive. Throughout the process, the government has been worse than useless. They refused to support the legal case before the commission or to assist with negotiations. Just yesterday, the Minister for Education and Training was dodging questions by saying that demands for equal pay would be settled through the Fair Work Commission process. Now we know what the outcome is.

This government will seemingly stop at nothing to pursue $65 billion of corporate tax cuts for Australia's biggest businesses, but it won't lift a finger—not a finger—to help the people who look after our children. On 27 March, early childhood educators will be walking off the job with the support of parents and centres across the country to try to make this government understand how important early childhood education is. I say this to those childcare workers: you will have my full support.