Taking out the rubbish, cleaning floors, painting walls – it”s all in a day”s work for a childcare worker.

Soon, they will also all be required

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to have qualifications. It”s probably not surprising that good childcare workers are leaving the industry in droves as low pay, low status and long hours take their toll. The director of a Mt

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Lawley childcare centre, Kay Ralph, says the exodus of workers is being ignored.

“The childcare debate is always about how expensive it is for parents but the (Federal) Government

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is subsidising parents, it is not subsidising early childhood educators,” she said.

“The industry will not be able to retain high quality workers for much longer.”

Ms Ralph says there are more and more demands on workers but pay and conditions have never caught up.

She says childcare workers get paid between $17 and $22 an hour before tax.

“As a director of a centre with 20 staff and responsibility for 52 kids every day, I get paid $27 an hour before tax,” she said.

“I take out the

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Leaving in droves

The United Voice union says the industry is in crisis.

According to research it commissioned, about 15,000 workers leave each year due to low pay.

The union”s WA assistant secretary Kelly Shay

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says the turnover rate is excessive. “There is a lack of professional recognition, low pay and no defined career path; it is hard to attract quality staff if you get paid more at Coles or McDonalds,” she said.

Ms Shay says part of the reason the childcare industry is not recognised for the work it does is because it is a workforce largely comprised of women.

“I think it is a highly feminised industry and a caring industry so it doesn”t get the attention and recognition it deserves, she said.

Ms Ralph says staffing is a constant problem.

“A director of a Perth ABC centre spoke recently at a childcare forum and said at one stage they had seven relief teachers and likened it to children being in a broken home,” she said.

“The dilemma with commercial centres is the same dilemma as not-for-profits; if they can”t pay their staff correctly, they can”t retain them. “But when you are paying $17 an hour, who are you going to get?”

Subsidy

In 1996, a federal wage subsidy for community childcare centres was abolished, around the same time as private childcare boomed.

Currently, the Federal Government subsidises parents for childcare costs, depending on their income, and the parents” fees go to childcare centres for running costs and wages. But, the union says it isn”t enough.

It is calling for the Federal Government to commit $1.4 billion in direct funding for wages which Kelly Shay says equates roughly to a pay increase of $10 per hour.

“We are asking the Federal Government to fund early childhood educators in the same way as teachers and nurses are,” she said.

“The Federal Government has said that from 2013/14 every four year-old will have access to 15 hours per week with a pre-primary teacher.”

“That will mean childcare centres will need to try and attract and retain early childhood teachers, that is the challenge, and unless something changes, the wages will have to come from increased parent fees.”

Responsibility

A spokesman for the Department of Workplace Relations says they are aware of the concerns of the sector and the Government is spending $190 million to train childcare workers.

He says the government has set a 10 year phase-in time for centres to meet the qualification requirements of the new standards.

It is also providing extra university places, removing TAFE fees and introducing formal Recognition of Prior Learning to assist workers obtain or upgrade qualifications.

Centre director Kay Ralph says while these are positive steps, there is little point to them without also increasing workers” pay.

“The government is trying to fix childcare by raising the qualifications requirement which is great but if you don”t have the skilled, well-paid workforce, you are wasting your money,” she said.

Ms Ralph says in more affluent areas, childcare centres are raising their fees and some parents are prepared to pay more.

“The only solution is to charge parents more but then it is only the more advantaged who can afford it; the doctors and the lawyers, the highly paid professionals,” she said.

“And if they raise the [minimum] award, who has to pay? Parents.

“The government has to step up: in all their documents they are calling us professional educators, but where is the recognition?”

“Fifteen/twenty years ago teaching wasn”t looked upon as a profession, we”re saying now it”s our turn.”

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