Yesterday, a high-profile group of Australian women including Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Lucy Turnbull and Christine Holgate, released an open letter to all Australians calling for safety, respect and equity for women.
The letter, which can be viewed here, calls for a wide range of reforms to:
- protect women from harassment and bullying in the workplace;
- embed respectful relationships and consent education everywhere, including schools, universities, workplaces and homes;
- expand paid parental leave;
- eliminate the gender pay gap; and, significantly
- provide free, accessible and quality early education and care.
A real opportunity for change for the ECEC sector
For the early education and care sector, the media furore created by this team of formidable Australians presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to affect real change for children, parents (particularly women) and our workforce. The letter is timely, given we are heading into a Federal election…but change is well overdue for the education and care sector, which has been hammered by two years of pandemic. Perhaps late is better than never.
Our workforce is at crisis point
CELA’s major workforce research report “Investing in our Future” was developed and released in partnership with ELAA and CCC in November last year. It highlighted the significant workforce shortages facing the education and care sector. We found that:
- nearly half of job vacancies in early education and care remained unfilled;
- over half of services had made changes to service delivery to cope with staff shortages;
- almost a quarter of services were reducing the number of children able to attend on a monthly basis.1
Our research built on other worrying trends, such as real-time declines in the number of people enrolling in early childhood education and care qualifications.2
CELA’s February pulse check surveys of long day cares and preschools on the impact of Omicron reinforced that the workforce crisis is not going away. 61 per cent of long day care services and 38 per cent of preschools who responded to our surveys reported having job vacancies. Respondents reported that professional fatigue was impacting their teams to the extent that it was influencing their capacity to do their jobs.
In all of our surveys, pay and conditions are mentioned as a driver contributing to high staff turnover and lack of new, quality entrants to the sector. The need for better pay and conditions is something that government, too, is well aware of – ACECQA’s Ten Year Workforce Strategy identifies the need to “investigate options for improved workforce pay and conditions” as a strategy to be adopted in the next three years.3
According to the latest figures from the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, for every $10 a man earns in Australia, women earn just $7.72 on average. This represents $25.8k per year less than men.4
The education and care workforce is 96 per cent female.5 Lifting pay and conditions in the sector would pay the triple-dividend of attracting talent to the sector, driving up quality as a result, and reducing the pay gap between men and women.
In the immediate term, education and care services are managing workforce shortages by taking staff away from critical planning time and putting them back on the floor, or operating at, instead of above ratio. Some are closing rooms or even the entire service, meaning children are not accessing education and care, and parents (usually mothers) are having to juggle care responsibilities with paid work.
The pandemic and gender dynamics
Pandemic related research conducted by the Australian Institute for Family Studies found that while the proportion of men stepping up to care for children increased modestly during the pandemic compared to pre-COVID levels, women were still taking care of the bulk of the caring for children and housework.6 This work is unpaid and is not recognised in the economy.
As a result, a huge portion of Australia’s productive work — in the form of informal care for members of the community — is unrecognised, and unaccounted for. This goes some way to explaining government recalcitrance when it comes to investing in the caring sector, as much of it is unpaid and not counted.
It is a long-standing issue, articulated well by the New Zealand economist and former parliamentarian, Marilyn Waring. In her book, Still Counting: Wellbeing, Women’s Work and Policy-making”, she writes that GDP — the measure by which national productivity is measured — is grossly inadequate to measure productive work as it does not capture unpaid work, instead categorising all unpaid work as ‘leisure time’:
Only people who do not spend many hours in the excluded sectors, who do not pass their time preparing meals or caring for the elderly, could possibly conclude that this was not work, and that those engaged in such activities were unproductive and simply enjoying leisure time.7
Similarly, those who volunteer on community managed education and care service committees would enthusiastically report that the time they spend raising money, employing and managing staff, reviewing, updating and implementing policies, or maintaining and improving the learning space, is not leisure time. The voluntary time they put into such work pays enormous community dividends, as community managed education and care service are more likely to be Exceeding the National Quality Standards, are more likely to be affordable for more families and have lower staff turnover.8 Money might not change hands, but the work done in the community-managed education and care space is incredibly valuable for children, families and the wider communities they serve.
We need to push for real change now – but how can we get the people who hold the purse-strings to listen?
The reality is, that without Australian voters putting pressure on their politicians to make the investment required to ensure all families can access high quality education and care for their child when they need it, the burden of care will fall back to families. It will be primarily women who are put at a disadvantage as a result, having to pay higher fees or forgoing paid work due to the expense and complexity of a fragmented and under-resourced system.
CELA’s joint advocacy puts women's future in the spotlight
CELA is joining forces with peaks ELAA and CCC to put together our solutions for children, families and the education and care sector. Like the open letter we mentioned at the start of this article, we will be advocating for free access to early childhood education and care for families when they need it. This is in addition to calling for improved pay and conditions, among other things.
A planning document outlining suggested solutions will be published soon.
Sign our petition today to help bring about the change our sector needs
To really bring about the sustained change we need to increase gender equity, every voice counts. In preparation for our Election Forum, we have created an online petition.
If you agree that:
- 2 days of free access to high quality early education and care for all children from when a family needs it would make a huge difference for children and families: and
- Improved pay and conditions, as well as other urgent workforce interventions for the early education and care workforce are critical to build a high quality, stable education and care workforce; then
Please sign our petition and share it, as this can add weight to our advocacy.
Sign the petition
*Please save the date for our member only Q&A Election Forum with federal politicians on 5 April from 7-8:30pm*
1 CELA, ELAA and CCC, (November 2021), “Investing in our Future: Growing the Education and Care Workforce”, https://www.cela.org.au/CELA/Publications/Reports/Investing-in-our-Future-25-Nov-2021.pdf pages 6-7
2 ACECQA, Workforce Snapshot, https://snapshots.acecqa.gov.au/workforcedata/index.html Accessed 7 March 2022
3 ACECQA, (September 2021), “Shaping our Future: a ten year strategy to ensure a sustainable, high-quality education and care workforce 2022-31” https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-10/ShapingOurFutureChildrensEducationandCareNationalWorkforceStrategy-September2021.pdf page 9
4 Australian Commonwealth Government, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, (Feb 2022) “Australia’s Gender Equality Scorecard” https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020-21_WGEA_SCORECARD.pdf page 9
5 ACECQA, Workforce Snapshot, https://snapshots.acecqa.gov.au/workforcedata/profile.html Accessed 7 March 2022
6 Australian Institute of Family Studies, “Families in Australia: Survey Life During COVID-19 Report Number 1” https://aifs.gov.au/publications/families-australia-survey-life-during-covid-19 Accessed 8 March 2022
7 Marilyn Waring, (2018) “Still Counting: Wellbeing, Women’s Work and Policy-making” Bridget Williams Books Ltd. Page 8
8 Trends in Community Child Care (2021) “Not for profit education and care: High quality, accessible and resilient” https://www.cccinc.org.au/docs/accs-ticcss-report-2020-wave-six-v1.0.pdf page 13