CHILDCARE workers who say they are underpaid tried to add pressure to the federal government on Saturday to boost their wages.
In Canberra, several hundred held a rally calling for an increase in their pay to the tune of $1.4 billion a year. It was one of several held in all states and territories.
Kasey Tomkins, a representative of United Voice, said she became a staff member for the union a month ago because she was not being paid enough.
The 29-year-old has applied to study midwifery after a decade in childcare.
''I was the second highest paid person at my centre and I was struggling,'' she said.
Director of Civic Early Childhood Service Tim Toogood said many workers at his centre had resigned.
''I've even lost staff who are getting married because they need (better paying work) to pay for the wedding,'' he said.
Meanwhile, about 3000 attended the Sydney rally in Hyde Park, calling for the federal government to recognise their plight.
It was organised by their union, United Voice. NSW branch secretary, Mark Boyd, said miserable wages were forcing about 180 workers out of the industry each week.
''The industry is in real crisis at the moment,'' he said. ''People come into the sector because they are passionate about young children, but they have to live as well.''
Mr Boyd called on the federal government to step in and fund professional wages for childcare workers.
Federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, denied the government was responsible for improving pay. ''The responsibility for setting award minimum wages rests with industrial tribunals independent of the government of the day,'' he said.
Hundreds of childcare workers rallied on the steps of the Victorian Parliament on. Parents also joined the rally, saying their children's education was being undermined by poor pay that caused up to one-third of early childhood educators to leave the job each year.
Protesters from across Victoria complained Labor's reform of the sector meant childcare workers had to obtain professional qualifications, yet salaries had not increased to match skills. Most staff start on the national minimum wage of about $35,000, leading to claims professionals are being treated as ''babysitters''.