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Educator wellbeing starts with knowing your entitlements

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How many breaks should you have during your day at work? What pay rate should you be on? Do you need to stay back for meetings that are outside of rostered time and should you be paid for them?

It’s important for your mental and physical wellbeing that you know your entitlements at work and how to stand up for them.

We share how you can become familiar with the award or agreement that outlines what you’re entitled to, and where to go to ask for help if you feel like your entitlements are not being met.

First thing’s first, do you know about the National Employment Standards?

All Australian employees are entitled to ten provisions which are outlined in The National Employment Standards (NES). These include the 38-hour work week, four weeks of annual leave, long service leave and public holiday pay. Other leave entitlements are also included:

  • parental leave
  • personal/carer’s leave
  • compassionate leave
  • unpaid family and domestic violence leave
  • community service leave

Awards and agreements may differ

Understanding your rights at work can be challenging because Teachers and Educators can have different entitlements. Your entitlements can be listed in a Modern Award, registered Enterprise Agreement and/or an employment contract. However, it is important to note an employment contract must be at least as good as all Award conditions and rates of pay, and the Award still applies in most circumstances.

The Children’s Services Award [MA000120] covers children’s services employees who are not university qualified, including Educators, Directors and Support Workers.

The Educational Services (Teachers) Award [MA000077] covers university qualified Teachers and Teacher Directors in long daycare, occasional care and preschool settings.

If you want to know what is included in an organisation’s Enterprise Agreement you can search for agreements on Fair Work’s website or ask your union. Employee contracts can be written or verbal, but they cannot offer less than the award or NES.

Desleigh White from People Matter HR suggests that a good starting point to understand your workplace entitlements is speaking with your manager. If they do not know, sharing articles such as this one may assist. The Fair Work Ombudsman has some great tools as well as online training on various employment related topics.

How many breaks should you have?

Sufficient breaks are essential for wellbeing. Taking care of yourself over a long shift requires good nutrition, time for self-care, and a space to rest away from children.

Break entitlements can vary, depending on qualification, service type and shift length. The best way to understand your minimum break entitlements is to check your award, ask your employer, and contact your union or Fair Work Ombudsman if you require clarification.

Lisa James of the Independent Education Union (IEU) outlines the following break entitlements, taken from Awards:

Teachers in preschools are entitled to an unpaid meal break of 20 – 30 minutes after five hours unless they are required to remain on the premises (see subclauses 16.1 and 16.2 of the Educational Services (Teachers) Award).

Teachers in long daycare are entitled to a paid meal break of 20 to 30 minutes after five hours unless by agreement with the Employer. They may leave the premises or elect not to be on call (see Schedule A.3.1 of the Educational Services (Teachers) Award).

Educators are entitled to an unpaid meal break of 20 – 30 minutes after five hours unless they are required to remain on the premises, in which case the break must be paid (see subclause 22.1 of the Children’s Services Award). Educators are also entitled to an additional 10 minute paid rest pause if they work more than four hours or two paid 10 minute rest breaks if they work more than seven hours (see subclause 22.2).

Remember to check your award for guidelines regarding break entitlements for your specific award.

What should you be paid?

Fair Work provides pay guides to help employees determine their minimum wage entitlements. View pay guides for The Children’s Services award and the Educational Services (Teachers) Award, as PDF files.

New Award Determination for staff employed under the Education Services (Teachers) Award 2020

Due to an application made by the IEU in 2020. the Education Services (Teachers) Award 2020 has been amended with a new clause inserted regarding minimum payments for a Teacher.

These changes specify a minimum payment for a casual Teacher including:

  • 2 hours for work up to 2 hours
  • 4 hours for working more than 2 hours and up to 4 hours
  • A full day when work is more than for 4 hours and up to a day

See the Fairwork Commission website for the award determination including the revised pay rates.

Non-contact programming time

Teacher and Educators need time away from children for planning and programming. Insufficient programming time leaves people rushed and stressed. All Educators, in addition to Teachers employed in long daycare centres who are responsible for programming, are entitled to at least two hours of non-contact time per week – without supervising children or performing other duties at the same time.

Working additional hours

Desleigh White from People Matter HR advises that “all hours you are asked to work should be paid in accordance with the relevant Award, although there may be circumstances where time in lieu is permissible. It is best to check your Award or with the Fair Work Ombudsman for the details”.

Lisa James of the IEU says that educators are entitled to be paid overtime for any work performed outside their ordinary hours of work / beyond 8 hours in a day or 38 hours per week (see clause 23).

“Teachers employed in long daycare are entitled to be paid overtime for any authorised work performed outside their ordinary hours of work or beyond 8 hours in a day or 38 hours per week according to schedule A.4.1. This includes required attendance at meetings,” says Lisa.

Other strategies to support employee wellbeing

Remember that awards and agreements list minimum entitlements, and management can go above and beyond to support employees. Talk as a team about new ways to boost morale and wellbeing.

Here are some examples of how early education services can do small things to look after the wellbeing of their team:

  • Every Friday, Lauren Jones, director of Green Garden Childcare Penrith, leaves a treat and an uplifting note in the staffroom. She also helps with jobs like cleaning even if she knows her staff can do them, because it takes the pressure off.
  • Katherine Wilson, owner of River Street Early Learning in Kempsey, reached out to gyms in her local area and arranged for her staff to have memberships as part of their employment. The gym put on extra classes to suit her roster and staff are encouraged to attend to improve their wellbeing.
  • Cara Debney, director at Kingaroy Early Learning Centre, prepares a home-cooked meal for staff meetings. She wants educators to feel like they belong: “like a family sitting down for dinner and chatting about their day.”
  • Megan Nauom is an educator who says the most important thing is sufficient staffing and off-the-floor time: “an extra hour a week or even 15 minutes at the end of the day can help. One place I worked also regularly had fresh smoothies and juice made up in the morning, that was nice.”


Finding help

Receive help with questions and disputes about pay and entitlements by contacting Fair Work on 13 13 94. Other contact options and links to online resources are available on their contact page.

Are you part of a union?

Several unions serve the early childhood sector. Sarah Gardner, Deputy Director ECEC of United Workers Union says, “if any union member experiences difficulties at work, the union can provide assistance with things like wages and conditions, health and safety, bullying and harassment, and other issues that may arise in the workplace.”

Members of United Workers Union are behind The Big Steps campaign which asks the government to fund a pay increase. “The Big Steps campaign is calling for professional wages, recognition for educators and a better early childhood education sector,” says Sarah.

The Independent Education Union (IEU) represents early childhood teachers working in ECEC in NSW and the ACT and both Teachers and Educators working in preschools in QLD.

Lisa James, Early Childhood Organiser at IEU says, “Teachers are primarily focused on fostering the development and planning for the education of young children, they are not necessarily aware of what their legal entitlements are or how to approach their employer about these.”

The IEU ran simultaneous Equal Remuneration and Work Value cases, which were heard by the Fair Work Commission in 2019. 34 witnesses produced close to 1,000,000 words in evidence arguing for pay equity for Early Childhood Teachers. To date, the Fair Work Commission has not made a Decision on these cases.

To read the evidence presented in submissions please visit:

Unions that serve the early childhood sector include:

Did you know that the Fair Work Commission recently made the following changes to the Children’s Services Award?

The Fair Work Commission (The Commission) has issued a determination to vary the Children’s Services Award.

The changes apply from the first full pay period starting on or after 1 November 2020. The Commission has made changes to:

  • Rostering  – employers have greater capacity to record agreed roster changes digitally, including via text message or email. See clauses 10.4 (d) and 21.7 (b).
  • Non-contact time for educational leaders – Educational Leaders with programming responsibilities now get 2 hours of non-contact time per week,  on top of the 2 hours of non-contact time already in the award for employees preparing, implementing or evaluating developmental programs. See clause 21.5(a) and 21.5(b). There is currently an application before the Fair Work Commission seeking to add non-contact time for educational leaders to the Educational Services (Teachers) award.
  • Providing hats and sunscreen – as part of providing protective equipment, employers need to supply or reimburse staff for hats and sunscreen lotion. The reimbursement is limited to reasonable costs incurred by the employee. See clause 15.2(c).


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