Childcare workers strike, call for respect

·3-min read

Thousands of childcare workers have staged a nationwide shutdown, urging the federal government to increase their pay and job security.

An estimated 70,000 children and families were impacted by the industrial action as up to 1000 centres partially or completely closed on Wednesday.

Workers rallied in all capital cities asking for a reason to stay in a sector grappling with staff shortages, which a union official described as a crisis.

The United Workers Union called on the federal government to give a solid commitment on when wages will rise and when they will implement major reforms.

"They're exhausted, they're sick of being undervalued, and they're calling for change," the union's early education director Helen Gibbons told AAP of workers.

"They need to know what this government's plan is to fix their wages and give them a reason to stay in the sector, but also to reform the sector."

The minimum wage for a childcare support worker begins at $21.85 an hour, which is $830 a week before tax.

Early Childhood Education Minister Anne Aly said she was committed to developing solutions to recruit and retain workers.

"Fees for centre-based care have risen by 41 per cent in the last eight years alone, we have a plan to deliver a stronger early childhood education workforce with a secure pipeline of workers," Dr Aly said.

The federal government has also flagged a review into pricing across the system.

In Melbourne's Federation Square thousands of workers donned blue tops and chanted as they marched through the city on Wednesday.

Educator Kiki Fairbrass said she was sick of being thanked with food and cupcakes for working during breaks, leading working bees on weekends, staying back late and cleaning centres.

"We're fighting for recognition because as educators we need qualifications to work in this industry" Ms Fairbrass told AAP.

Another worker told AAP she was forced to buy her own PPE at the height of the pandemic because it was not supplied by her employer.

Parent Daniel Scoullar attended the rally with his three-year-old son Elliot as a gesture of gratitude.

"Early childhood educators are part of the glue that holds everything together, enables people to go to work, supports kids' development and just doesn't get that level of respect," he told AAP.

"It's not treated like the skilled profession that it is."

Caterina Mamone has been an early childhood educator for 14 years and says she's sick of being described as a babysitter.

"We are basically raising other people's children from zero to five," she said.

"I shouldn't have to think, 'what happens if I leave the sector and find a job with better stability?'"

Leading operators Goodstart Early Learning and G8 Education expressed support for workers staging the shutdown.

Thrive Early Learning owns eight centres around Sydney and backs the industrial action but questioned how wages can rise without costs being passed on to families.

"I fully support educators as they use the only tactic they feel works to get governments to listen. But I wonder how the increased pay will be funded?" founder Carl Elassal said.

Goodstart Early Learning expected workers from about 200 of its centres to attend rallies.

"We know that a lot of parents have opted to pick up their children early so that more of the educators can attend their rallies. A lot of parents are very supportive," Goodstart's head of advocacy John Cherry told AAP.