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The $30,000 pay gap question

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 With the same degree, the same responsibilities, but often shorter holidays and less professional support, why are early childhood teachers paid so much less than their primary school colleagues? Amplify editor Bec Lloyd looks at a pay gap that starts around $16,000 and doubles in less than 10 years, and hears from the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA) as it prepares to launch a new Equal Remuneration pay claim.

After nine years a preschool teacher earns $66,868 compared to $100,299 for the primary school teacher, or $33,431 less per year.

There’s another push on to have an equal pay case heard, and it starts this week.

Don’t confuse this with the five year, combined union effort for equal pay that failed on technical grounds earlier in 2018. In that case, the Fair Work Commission criticised the legal strategy the unions had collectively adopted, which ultimately meant the arguments could not be put forward. It was a devastating blow– morally and financially – at the time for the sector’s industrial representatives, but certainly not enough to end the argument.

This Thursday, 26 July, marks the start of IEUA’s landmark equal pay case before the Fair Work Commission, arguing that early childhood teachers are underpaid because they are mostly women. It’s an independent action, rather than the previous collective approach, but a good result for one union would be seen as a ‘go’ signal for all.

What might happen?

A positive outcome in this case would be to acknowledge the professionalism of early childhood teachers, which could in turn raise levels of respect and reward across the whole sector.

The IEUA Assistant Secretary Carol Matthews says that winning this case would transform the lives of families and improve the education of young children in Australia for years to come. Her branch of the IEU represents more than 30,000 teachers, principals and support staff in Catholic and independent schools, early childhood centres and post secondary colleges in NSW and ACT.

One key result would be to stem the exit of highly qualified and experienced professional teachers to the school sector.

Another important outcome would be for the Commission to acknowledge the lower pay rates in early childhood education result from the 95% female composition of the workforce rather than from a lesser work value. That decision would have repercussions for non-degree qualified educators and, potentially, other female-dominated employment sectors such as aged care.

And it gets worse over time.

Stark differences

The differences in pay between primary school teachers and early childhood teachers are stark.

Despite having the same degrees as any other teacher, going through the same accreditation process and having the same tertiary debts, first year preschool teachers earn $50,665 compared to $67,248 for first year teachers in primary schools, a difference of $16,583.

And it gets worse over time.

Throwing the Australian Council of Trade Union’s support behind the case today, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus pointed out that the pay gap between preschool and primary school increases every year.

After nine years a preschool teacher earns $66,868 compared to $100,299 for the primary school teacher, or $33,431 less per year.

The case for women

IEUA is asking the Fair Work Commission to compare pay rates for the female dominated profession of early childhood teaching with male primary teachers and male engineers.

‘This case will test whether the equal remuneration principle under the Fair Work Act can help women who are paid less because of the feminised nature of their work,’ McManus said.

While estimates weren’t available at the time of publishing, lower salaries in early childhood teaching inevitably lead to worse financial outcomes across a career. Superannuation is based on salary and an ECT will typically receive a lower superannuation payout than her primary school colleague – compare the pair, anyone?  Other issues compound the disadvantage: ECTs on award rates pay a higher percentage of their salary than their primary school colleagues for an average mortgage for instance, and the same is true for other costs that aren’t moved by income, like health insurance.

Degrees matter

Matthews refers to research shows that degree qualified early childhood teachers are crucial for early years development but pay disparity made it hard to attract teachers to the profession, especially in long day care centres.

The IEUA’s case will use testimony from a number of witnesses from primary and early childhood backgrounds to argue the work is of equal value.

Would you join in?

The IEUA is asking can you spare a few hours from 9.30am on Thursday, 26 July? If you’re in Sydney, you might help to represent early childhood teachers from every part of Australia as in a protest the massive pay gap between early childhood teachers’ and primary school teachers’ salaries.

Badges and signs available on the day.

Venue: Gather outside Fair Work Commission, 80 William Street, East Sydney

Time: 9.30am

Date: Thursday, 26 July

For further details see https://www.ieu.asn.au

Bec Lloyd

Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.

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