Childcare worker paid less than Coles ‘Checkout Chick’

In the lead up to the 2013 May Day, PShift is looking at various industries in which workers are struggling for better pay, conditions and more say in the workforce.

We have begun with childcare and hope to move onto building & construction, food, mining and energy.

On childcare, we spoke to Kathy (not her real name) who said that she could not be interviewed on air because she may get into trouble at work.

An actor plays her part.

PShift: Could you please introduce yourself?

Kathy: My name is Kathy; I am 20 years of age and work in childcare. I got a certificate in childcare in my final years of high school.

PShift: Are you a member of the union? Which union covers childcare?

Kathy: I am not a member of the union because the union fees are too high for someone on my wage. I am not opposed to the union – the one that covers childcare workers is United Voice.

PShift: If I were to walk into an average childcare centre, how is the work divided up?

Kathy: You mean who does what jobs, and how are they paid?

PShift: Yes

Kathy: You have an assistant educator who used to be a childcare assistant.

PShift: Why is the person called an educator?

Kathy: Its because early childhood is a learning process and to show that the educator must be qualified.

PShift: Who else?

Kathy: You also have a 2IC who is the assistant manager and the manager. You may also have a trainee.

PShift: What is the crisis in childcare and how do you solve it?

Kathy: Too many children and too few staff. People are employed on a casual basis often earning less than $20 per hour. I was earning more as a checkout chick in Coles when I was 18.

PShift: What does an 18 year old in Coles earn?

Kathy: If she is a casual, about $20 per hour.

PShift: And what about an assistant educator in a childcare centre?

Kathy: About $18 per hour plus a checkout chick can get more if she works on weekends or on late shift.

PShift: So selling groceries earns more than caring for children?

Kathy: Pretty much, yes.

PShift: What if the person has childcare qualifications, a certificate from TAFE or a Uni degree?

Kathy: They can get paid more but not much more. A lot of older women in their 40s don’t have qualifications and they get paid less than an 18 year old in Coles.

PShift: You clearly think they deserve more – why and how much?

Kathy: An early childcare educator is crucial for making sure that kids thrive, have a positive learning environment. People don’t give credit for how smart a child of 18 months or 2 is. Children understand a lot.

PShift: Do they know the difference between right and wrong?

Kathy: Of course, they know it is wrong to hit babies and they pretty much know that the same rule applies to the other kids regardless of age.

PShift: Do they hit other kids?

Kathy: Well yes, but they know that they will get punished.

PShift: What kind of changes would you like to see in childcare?

Kathy: Better paid permanent jobs with good training.

PShift: How much more do you want?

Kathy: An extra $10 per hour.

PShift: How difficult is it surviving on the money you earn?

Kathy: Well I shared a flat in Colindale with another worker from the childcare centre where I worked. The rent was $515 per week yet I was only getting $20 an hour for most of the time.

PShift: How did you manage?

Kathy: I didn’t, I moved back home so I can go to Uni and get better qualified.

PShift: What will happen if you don’t get a wage increase?

Kathy: I’m hoping to get better qualifications so that I can become a primary school teacher.

PShift: Are you aware that the federal budget is coming up and it is there that decisions about government subsidies for childcare are made.

Kathy: I was aware of that.

PShift: Do you accept that government makes much of the decision-making about allocation for childcare?

Kathy: PuddleDuck pays me, not the government. It’s a private agency.

PShift: Have you heard of the Big Steps campaign?

Kathy: Sure, it’s a campaign to improve the wages and conditions of childcare workers.

PShift: What is the focus of the Big Steps Campaign?

Kathy: To get government to provide better funding for the childcare sector.

PShift: Who will get the money? Will the workers?

Kathy: I doubt it – ABC Learning was bailed out by government and most of the money went into Eddie Groves pockets.

PShift: What is expected of you in an ordinary working day?

Kathy: I look after 12 babies at a time, I change their nappies, I organise a program for them, I take photos, and I clean up, feed and reassure them. I provide a safe environment for their needs.

PShift: How much do parent’s pay for childcare per day?

Kathy: It depends, about $90 plus there has been an 11% increase in fees recently – it is a big money spinner for someone.

PShift: Didn’t aged care workers get an increase in wages after the government put in extra money?

Kathy: I think so

PShift: What is the turnover like in your place of work?

Kathy: I don’t know, I just left my job – I didn’t like my new manager in the toddler section, I preferred looking after babies, the pay was lousy, my flat mate got another job and I want t get better qualified so I can earn more money and go overseas. I’ve moved back home.

Mother Courage and her children –

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