They educate and care for our most precious assets but childcare workers are paid more than $22,000 below the average yearly wage.
As regulations are rolled out to increase the formal qualifications of the workforce, early childhood education and care workers say they are far more than "glorified babysitters" and deserve to be paid accordingly.
The average weekly wage for childcare workers is $730, or about $19.20 an hour; more than $400 below the average salary.
Childcare managers earn just below the average wage, $1140 a week, while early childhood teachers earn $1087.
The Productivity Commission, as part of its continuing inquiry into child care, has heard from a number of workers who felt they were underpaid and undervalued, while centre directors told how they had been swamped by red tape and paperwork.
One said: "As someone who has 20 years experience working with children, as well as the diploma in children's services, I can make more money working at Kmart as a night filler than I do working in an industry I am experienced and qualified to work in."
Childcare Association of WA executive officer Rachelle Tucker said providers were struggling to find and keep high-quality staff.
Carolyn Smith, WA branch secretary of United Voice union, said about 180 childcare workers were leaving the sector each week because of low wages.
"It is a ridiculous wage, these people are committed to children but they can earn more stacking shelves," she said.
"Parents want to know they are leaving their kids in a quality environment, with experienced, trained staff providing an educationally rich environment. That turnover affects quality of care."
Caroline Barratt-Pugh, director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood at Edith Cowan University, said research was increasingly showing that the birth to three-year-old age group was a critical time for development.
Professor Barratt-Pugh is concerned with one of the commission's draft recommendations suggesting that staff working with children between birth and three years should require only a Certificate III qualification.
"Brain development, social, emotional, physical and intellectual development is absolutely crucial from birth, therefore you need people working in that area that have a detailed understanding, knowledge and qualifications," she said.
Lara Skinner, director of Tiny Beez Child Care in Karrinyup, pays her staff above the award wage and said they were extremely dedicated.
"A lot of people think of us as babysitters, but we're passionate and we work all these hours to provide fantastic care," she said.