By CELA on 4 Dec, 2020

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 rights 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

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.

Awards and agreements may differ

Understanding your rights at work can be challenging because educators can have different entitlements. Your rights can be listed in an award, registered agreement or employee contract.

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 in both long daycare and preschool settings.

You can search for agreements on Fair Work’s website. Employee contracts can be written or verbal, but they cannot offer less than the award or NES.

How many breaks should you have?

Sufficient breaks are essential for wellness. 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 and contact your union or Fair Work if you require clarification.

As an example, the Educational Services (Teachers) Award 2020 Schedule A—Hours of Work and Related Matters (Fair Work Ombudsman) sets out the following guidelines for breaks for Teachers employed in early childhood services operating for at least 48 weeks per year:

16.1 Unpaid meal break

(a) An employer is required to provide an unpaid meal break of not less than 30 consecutive minutes to an employee who is engaged or rostered to work for more than 5 hours on a day. Such meal break will start no later than 5 hours after the employee commenced work on that day.

(b) Clause 16.1(a) does not apply to teachers employed in early childhood services operating for at least 48 weeks per year who are covered by the provisions of Schedule A—Hours of Work and Related Matters—Teachers employed in early childhood services operating for at least 48 weeks per year.

16.2 Paid meal break

If a teacher employed in an early childhood service is required to remain on the premises during the meal break they will be entitled to a paid meal break of between 20 and 30 minutes no later than 5 hours after commencing work.

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

The Education Services (Teachers) Award 2020 has been amended with a new clause inserted regarding minimum payments for an employee.

These changes specify a minimum payment for casual employees 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 Fairwork for the award determination including the revised pay rates.

Non-contact programming time

Educators need time away from children for planning and programming. Insufficient programming time leaves educators rushed and stressed. All educators and teachers 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.

Unpaid overtime

“There are no circumstances where it’s legal for an employer to ask you to work for free,” says Sarah Gardener of United Workers Union. “If you are asked to work unpaid overtime, to start early or finish later without being paid, or to take programming work home, speak to your workmates about how this is not okay, and call your union office together to join and protect your rights.”

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 wellness.

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. 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.

Join a union that serves the early childhood sector:

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).
  • 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).

Have you seen our new live webinar training calendar?

Many sessions to choose from, including many of our most popular training topics redesigned for webinar format.

Topics are delivered in a variety of 2- 3 hour sessions or 2 part series. Every course provides a practical, hands-on approach to professional development.

CELA has been supporting the professional needs of the early and middle childhood sector for over 40 years.

We’ve trained over 7,000 early education professionals across 2020 through calendar and customised sessions with a focus on developing quality practice for the benefit of children.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.



Yuasnita Fatnur
Posted on 18 Jun, 2024
Hello, I just started with a new centre. Next week will be my orientation before starting the job as an educator. I would like to know what are documents that I need to ask from the employer/company before starting the job. (Work aggreement, or contract work?)
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