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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8331


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (11:07): I second the motion. I rise today to speak on this very important motion raised by the member for Sydney, which calls on the government to take action to support equal pay and recognition for women working in undervalued care professions. I want to thank the member for Sydney for her continuing efforts and her commitment to raising awareness about the need to address the gender pay gap in Australia.

Over 50 per cent of my constituents are women. They come from a mix of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. They vary in circumstance, age and education—from women who are now on the age pension, to women who are young and aspire to education and employment in their chosen careers. They are women who have families—young mums, single mums, women living with disability and women who are carers. My most recent arrivals are women fleeing the violence and the destruction of war. They have arrived here, grateful for the protection and safety we have offered, and are eager and anxious to rebuild their lives and those of their families.

Unemployment in Calwell is a challenge; so too is underemployment. But, in the case of my local women, the gender pay gap adds an additional burden to their economic disadvantage. This is especially the case for women who work in undervalued, traditionally female-dominated industries. Yes, there have been improvements in the gender pay gap. But our concern here today is that it has not been enough and we need to do more if we are to achieve equal pay and recognition for those women working in traditionally female-dominated industries such as early learning, aged care, health and disability care. These jobs are the backbone of our country. Workers in these areas provide for our vulnerable Australians and care for our needy. They support our young and they look after our sick. These are the jobs many of my local women choose as their profession. They deserve equal pay and they deserve recognition.

In their fight for this, last week, on Wednesday, 5 September, early childhood educators around the country staged industrial action to highlight the need for equal pay and proper recognition of the value of their work. Many of the women in my electorate participated in this stop-work. One of them, Roxborough Park resident Kate, who marched alongside other early childhood educators on the day, marched because she wants to send this government a message that this industry is not to be ignored. She marched because it's a hard job, a tough job, but a job she loves and she's been involved in for 20 years. She marched because she wants to end the high turnover of staff and said that, if the government paid them properly and recognised the work they do, they would feel valued to stay. She marched because other industries with the same qualifications of cert III and diploma level are paid a lot more. And she marched because she wants to end the stigma endured by her and her fellow early educators—that they are seen just as babysitters. Early childhood educators engage children in ways that are way beyond babysitting. They teach children to socialise, to interact and to learn. They allow families to feel safe and confident that they are leaving their child in a professional place with people who are trained to look after their children.

When I spoke to Kate last week about her job as an early childhood educator, she told me that what she loves most about her job is educating children, looking after families and mentoring the next generation of early childhood educator staff. She said:

There is nothing I love more than when a new family comes into the centre and I get to settle their child, especially for first time mums who are having to go back to work.

I love that I can make them feel safe leaving their child with me—giving them the security they need to go off and work. And then being able to watch their child's progress from three months all the way to kinder.

The children of our local non-English speaking communities have special circumstances and special needs that must be addressed if they are to get a fair go at school. Many newly-arrived migrants rely on early childhood education to help their children learn English and to help the families settle and integrate into the community better. In this community, Kate recognises that people rely on extended families for care. However, in many cases, they don't have the family support here in Australia. The childhood educators then step in and earn the trust and respect of these families and help them in settling into their new home.

How is it that workers who do one of the most important roles in our community, are the most undervalued? A Shorten Labor government will ensure early childhood educators are treated with fairness and decency, are recognised as a profession and paid their fair due. My question today in this chamber is: will this government do the same?