‘We are not babysitters, we are educators!’

Around 1,000 early learning educators marked International Women’s Day by walking off the job to protest their low pay.  It was the latest action in United Voice’s Big Steps campaign, which is demanding the federal government fund a wage increase for workers in the sector.

Staff at the Dawson Street Child Care Cooperative in Brunswick, in Melbourne’s inner north, were joined by around 200 others in a spirited protest to the Brunswick Town Hall. The most popular chant of the day was a message for the prime minister: “Hey Malcolm, listen up, educators are standing up!”

More than 95 percent of childcare workers in Australia are women. Despite their qualifications, many earn just $20 an hour. According to the union, this is half the average national wage.

Child care is a $12 billion a year industry, made up of 10,000 government-approved providers that employ 170,000 workers. Despite rising fees, wages remain paltry.

Narelle Lawton, United Voice member and director at Dawson Street, said the low wage offered to early childhood educators shows that their skills are undervalued. “We are not babysitters, we are educators”, she said in a speech to the rally. 

Dee Suvanmani, a kindergarten teacher, told Red Flag: “We receive a third less than all other educators in the education industry, so that’s a significant gap.  So basically Malcolm Turnbull needs to stop separating professions because of gender; everyone should be treated equally.  We spend a lot of time with these children, we are shaping them. These guys are going to be the next leaders.  They are going to be the next educators. I don’t want to tell my kids you can’t follow your dreams to be an educator like me, because of the low pay, you won’t be able to live with a mortgage, or live comfortably and go on holidays”. 

A worker at Dawson Street had a simple message for Malcolm Turnbull: “We need more and we need it now!”