By CELA on 13 Jun, 2023

Last week, CELA CEO Michele Carnegie spoke at a press conference to announce the first ever multi-employer bargaining process for the sector. 

Early education and care should be seen as a profession of choice and valued for its contribution to the lives of children and families,” said CELA CEO Michele Carnegie. “That’s why we’ve decided to represent members from the start of this collaborative process of multi-employer bargaining, which will see Government brought to the table to negotiate better pay in a form that will not put additional financial burdens on services and families.

Across the sector, low pay, high staff turnover and uneven access to quality training mean that many services are struggling to find quality staff. Educators and teachers are too often paid below average wages and less than workers in comparative sectors such as primary education, disability care and aged care. 

In order to have a sustainable, high-quality early education sector, we must have suitably remunerated teachers and educators who are given ongoing opportunities for professional development. We have advocated for a solution to low wages in the sector for many years, because it underpins all five of CELA’s advocacy pillars which are:  

  1. Achieving quality early education 
  2. Building a stable workforce that’s nurtured and valued 
  3. Ensuring viability for community and small providers 
  4. Improving access for vulnerable children 
  5. Closing the gap for rural children 

We’re are optimistic that this process will see our sustained advocacy lead to wage reform, and support all five of our advocacy pillars. 

The full details

How wages and conditions are currently set in ECEC 

Awards are legal documents that outline the minimum amount that people should be paid and the conditions they should work under. They’re decided by an independent body called the Fair Work Commission. In the world of early childhood, the primary awards we use are called the Children’s Services Award and the Education Services (Teachers) Award.  

In addition to these awards, lots of early childhood education and care services get together to create their own custom-made agreements, known as enterprise agreements. These are created specifically for a particular workplace and must offer even better pay and working conditions than the minimum set out in the award. These agreements are made through mutual discussion between the employers and the workers, who may be represented by their union.

Once an agreement has been reached, it needs to be approved by the Fair Work Commission to make sure it ticks all the legal boxes. Importantly, they ensure that the employees are getting an even better deal than they would under the relevant award. 

How multi-employer bargaining works 

Picture this process like a group discussion, where multiple employers, and their employees represented by unions, gather around a table to negotiate terms and conditions of employment, all in one go. Multi-employer bargaining can streamline the negotiation process, leading to more consistent conditions across an industry. It's particularly valuable in sectors like early childhood education and care where there are many small employers. For example, there are over 4,500 long day care employers, so making agreements service-by-service is onerous.

Multi-employer bargaining means that rather than each service having to negotiate separately, they can come together and use their collective power to negotiate better conditions for their employees.

What’s changed and why is this happening now?  

Last year new laws under the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation were passed to address the issue of low wages by extending the benefits of enterprise bargaining to government funded sectors like ECEC. 

When introducing these new laws to parliament, Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke specifically identified early childhood as a sector intended to access and benefit, saying:  

The bill will rename and remove barriers to access the existing low-paid bargaining stream, with the intention of closing the gender pay gap and improving wages and conditions in sectors such as community services, cleaning, and early childhood education and care, which have not been able to successfully bargain at the enterprise level.

Tony Burke, Minister for Minister for Employment & Workplace Relations, Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill second reading speech (27 Oct, 2022) 

Until now, there were many barriers to raising wages through enterprise bargaining in the early education sector. Making agreements is time consuming and costly, and many services do not have the expertise or resources to manage the process. Secondly, any increased costs as a result of improved wages and conditions have needed to be absorbed through higher parent fees.  

Now, with the new laws, multiple employers across the ECEC sector can join together to set a new standard in wages and conditions. This approach eliminates the need for individual negotiation and, more importantly, brings the government—the primary funder of the sector—into the conversation. 

What’s happened to date and who’s included? 

It’s been an exciting journey so far, but it really is just the beginning.  

Last week, CELA was part of the group that lodged the first application under these new laws (on behalf of a group of member services). 

The application was made under the new Supported Bargaining Stream which allows the parties to seek additional assistance from the Fair Work Commission to facilitate discussions, including requiring the federal government to participate as the primary funder of the sector.  

The application covers 62 ECEC employers, including community and small providers represented by CELA, and will cover thousands of educators. 

If the process is successful, a new multi-employer bargaining agreement will be drafted to set new wages and conditions for early educators. While initially covering a representative group of services in the long day care sector, including small providers and community managed services, the aim is to develop a model which can be extended to the rest of the early education and care sector. 

For CELA member services this presents a real opportunity to lead the way on improving wages and conditions across our sector,” said CELA CEO Michele Carnegie. “Throughout this process CELA will be working to ensure the best outcome for all members, including that all eligible services will have the opportunity to benefit from any agreement made.

Will the government help to fund the pay increase? 

Our members, as community and small providers, will not be able to substantially improve wages and conditions to the extent needed to reverse workforce shortages, without funding support from government. This process allows for discussions to occur directly with government as the primary funder. 

If the Government does agree to fund an increase, a new enterprise agreement will be created that will reflect the higher wages.

What happens next?  

Once the Fair Work Commission approves our application to negotiate together, the next step will be a series of negotiations to decide on the new wages and conditions which will be included in the new agreement. 

Once these discussions are completed with employers, unions and the government, a new national agreement applying to participating services will be made. 

The aim of the process is to create a model that could be adopted across other long day care services and replicated in other parts of the sector such as state funded preschools and outside of school hours care services. If your service is not covered by the initial application, there are ways to be covered by the new agreement at a later stage. 

Once an agreement is made, eligible long day care employers who are not part of the initial application will have the option to engage in a process to sign up to it at any stage under these new laws. Employees also have the option to initiate the process of signing up to the new agreement. They can do this by demonstrating to the Fair Work Commission that the majority of the employees of a particular employer wish to be covered. 

CELA will be running a member information webinar in the second half of this month. Invitations will be emailed out later this week. We’re looking forward to sharing more information with you and answering any questions you may have.    


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.



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