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Issue #1768      March 8, 2017

Build the wage rage

More than 1,000 educators from long day care centres are marking International Women’s Day on March 8 by walking off the job in the afternoon in support of their national campaign for equal pay. This is the largest walk-off early childhood educators have ever held.

There is strong support from parents and the community for their action.

Helen Gibbons who is the assistant national secretary of their union, United Voice, said, “Educators are walking off the job on International Women’s Day to tell Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull it’s time he valued their work by funding equal pay for educators.”

The walk-offs will take place at 3:20 pm, which represents the time women in Australia effectively start working for free because of the persistent gender pay imbalance.

Qualified early childhood educators are paid as little as $20.61 an hour for work that is vital to the social, intellectual and emotional development of children up to five years of age. This is close to half the average wage and significantly less than workers in male-dominated professions with comparable skills and qualifications.

Ninety-seven percent of the early childhood centre workforce is female, making it one of the most highly gender-segregated workforces in Australia. Their wages are low because they are female. A large percentage are younger employees.

United Voice lodged an application with the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for equal pay for early childhood educators a far back as July 2013. They are still waiting for a decision.

University-qualified early childhood teacher Lucy Gosling spends her days teaching children everything from the correct pencil grip to negotiation skills, the ethics of sharing and the importance of showing respect for others.

“I love my job but I am never going to get a loan to buy a house in Sydney on my wage and that is a bit sad,” she said.

Educators, not child minders

“It’s time the federal government valued the work of early educators, by funding equal pay in this year’s budget,” Gibbons, said.

In their submission to the FWS, the union pointed out the importance of the role of early childhood educators – and they are educators, not child minders. Over the years they have had to gain higher qualifications and skills, many have degrees and diplomas. They provide care, comfort and development to children in a diverse range of ages, developmental stages and abilities.

They do so in accordance with an educational program for the development of cognitive, language, literacy, numeracy, nutrition, social, behavioural and creative skills and tailor the delivery of care and development to suit the individual needs of each child.

They also have to communicate and interact with families and community support agencies; carry out the recording and evaluating of care, education and development of individual children or groups; ensure the hygiene, health, nutrition and safety of children; and exercise physical dexterity and strength; amongst other responsibilities.

There is a wealth of evidence demonstrating the importance of education and development in those early formative years of life to later education and development.

With such low pay it is not surprising that there is a shortage of and a high turnover of early childhood educators.

“This problem should have been fixed decades ago and yet educators’ wages don’t come near reflecting their professional skills and responsibilities,” Gibbons said.

Pay equity long overdue

On paper, equal pay for work of equal value was won in 1972.

Forty-five years on the gender gap between males and females working full-time at ordinary rates is 17.2 percent. The gap has widened in recent years. Ten years ago it was 16 percent.

This figure relates to full-time workers and excludes overtime. The gap when total income is taken into consideration is far larger, as the proportion of women in part-time and casual jobs is far higher than that for men.

In the case of early childhood educators the gender gap is more like a yawning chasm.

It is time for the union movement to join parents and educators in pressuring the government to adequately fund early childhood centres and demonstrate strong support for the union’s claim for pay equity.

Penalty rate cut hits women

The FWC’s slashing of Sunday penalty rates in the retail, fast food, hospitality and pharmaceutical industries disproportionately affects low wage women and young workers as they constitute the majority of workers in those industries. In fact, the majority of the workforce affected is under 25 years of age.

Quite often it is women who work on the weekend, such as when their partner is home to take their children to sporting and other activities. Sole parents, the majority being women, can often find someone to mind their children while they supplement their income at weekends.

All too often weekend work, in particular on Sundays, plays an important role in making ends meet for people on low and even middle incomes. Wages at the lower end of the scale are flat or even falling but prices continue to rise.

Adult employees will see their Sunday rate plunge from $38.88 to $29.16 per hour. They will need to do an additional hour’s work just to break even. That could be a loss of $77.76 for an eight-hour shift or $97.20 for ten hours. That is if they are at least 20 years of age.

Such a reduction will only serve to widen the gender pay gap.

Thousands of students relying on Sunday penalty rates to help fund their way through studies or supplement low weekday wages, will be hit. Australia already has the lowest youth wages of any industrialised country.

Other youth also depend on them for survival.

Under the retail and hospitality awards, youths under 16 receive 50 percent of the adult rate for doing the same work. This rises to 60 percent from 16-17 and in further incremental steps to the full adult rate at age 20.

Many of these workers have already been scalped by franchises and subcontractors of major corporations including 7-Eleven, Caltex, Australia Post among others.

To rob these young workers of a quarter of their Sunday wage is criminal. They are already paid a pittance.

The angry response of trade unions, workers and the wider community to the FWC’s decision and the overwhelming public opposition to the cuts is a grim reminder of the Howard government’s WorkChoices attack on workers.

The highly successful Your Rights @ Work campaign, uniting trade unionists and the broader community, played a major role in the defeat of the Howard government in 2007.

WorkChoices enabled employers to reduce penalty rates, overtime pay and shift allowances below award provisions through the introduction of individual employment contracts. In this instance the government used legislation to give employers what they demanded.

Taking a lesson from Howard’s experience, the Abbott/Turnbull government has attempted to distance itself from penalty rate cuts. Instead of legislation, former Treasurer Joe Hockey commissioned an “independent” Productivity Commission review of the Industrial Relations Framework. This laid the basis for the Fair Work Commission’s decision.

The present anger must be turned into action if the decision is to be defeated.

Big employers including Coles, Kmart, Target, Bunnings and others stalled making new enterprise agreements as they waited for the decision to be handed down. They had no doubt as to the direction it was headed.

They lined up, pressuring Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hold firm and keep supporting the FWC’s decision.

This is the time to act. Turnbull is under pressure from divisions within Coalition ranks, as fears mount over the potential political fall-out. Turnbull also has one eye on his leadership position, another on One Nation which is all for the cuts. He is also up against the Greens and Labor in Parliament who are seeking to legislate for the retention of full penalty rates or protection of wage rates.

It is time to show the government, employers and FWC that wage cuts are not on. This can only be done by strong and immediate action from the trade union movement, to throw out the decision and legislate for existing penalty rates to be retained as a minimum.

Next article – Editorial – Hostile takeover at ABC

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