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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13857


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (12:39): On Saturday, 17 November I joined several thousand childcare workers, parents, grandparents and children who rallied in Adelaide in support of the national Big Steps Day campaign for professional wages for early childhood education and care sector workers. The Adelaide rally, which I understand was one of several similar rallies around the country, began at Victoria Square, from where those participating walked about one kilometre along King William Street through the Adelaide CBD and on to Elder Park, on the banks of the River Torrens, where they heard from several speakers who addressed the gathering. The turnout in support of the rally exceeded expectations and I believe reflected the widespread community support for the professional wages campaign for early childhood education and care sector workers. For too long, childcare centre workers have been undervalued and underpaid. The Productivity Commission's final report into the early childhood development workforce states that:

While pay and conditions vary across the ECEC workforce, on average ECEC workers receive lower wages than workers in the rest of the workforce …

It goes on to say:

… the evidence available to the study indicates that it is rare for ECEC wages to exceed the award wage by any more than 10 per cent.

Yet we expect them to be better qualified, and we trust to them the care of infants at a very critical stage in their life—both with respect to their development and their learning.

It is a huge responsibility made even greater because each child has his or her own unique personality, unique personal needs and unique rate of development. For that responsibility, childcare centre workers with a certificate III qualification are paid $18.58 per hour. By comparison, school teachers are paid almost twice that amount. Childcare centre workers are much more than babysitters. They are expected to be both educators and carers. As such, they are expected to be appropriately qualified and multiskilled. I have visited many childcare centres, spoken at length with staff at them and carried out voluntary work at the Bubble and Squeak childcare centre at Golden Grove, just so that I could better understand the nature of the work. I experienced for myself the range of skills required, the demands of the work and the individual care required by each child and the high expectations families place on centres.

Quite properly, the standard of both facilities and of care within the childcare centres has improved in recent years. But the wages of childcare centre workers has simply not kept pace with other changes within the industry, or with wages paid in other sectors. Not surprisingly, 180 workers leave the sector every week, and the sector is already experiencing workforce shortages. It is estimated that by 2016 an additional 15,300 certificate III and 8,600 diploma and degree positions will be needed. I do not know how profitable childcare centres are, but I have little doubt that operators will argue that if they are required to pay higher wages then they will be forced to increase their fees. Increased fees will mean that for some families, particularly those on lower incomes, childcare will become unaffordable. If that occurs, more people will exit the workforce, causing workforce shortages in other sectors.

That is why this government—on coming to office in 2007—increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. In dollar terms, the childcare rebate went from $4,354 to $7,500 per year. I have heard the confected outrage from those opposite about the capping of the rebate at $7,500. The fact remains that this government increased the rebate from $4,354 to $7,500 per year; it was not those opposite. That is a $3,146 increase or roughly a 75 per cent increase on what was being paid. The pretentious outrage of coalition members is simply not matched by their actions when they were last in government.

However, even with the increased rebate, lower income workers cannot afford an increase in childcare fees. Furthermore, we will only increase the opportunity for more parents, and particularly women, to enter or return to the workforce and add to national productivity if we have affordable, high-quality child care services. Whilst this may well be an industrial relations issue between employers and employees, as some have argued, the fact is that without government intervention, the likelihood of higher wages being paid to workers in this sector is remote. The industry understands that, the childcare centre workers understand that and the families of the children placed in childcare understand that. That is why there is a national call for government intervention, a call which I support and which I bring to the minister's attention.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 12:44