Federal Politics


Big childcare choices need to be made

I still have days, I'll admit, where the idea of 24/7 childcare seems like a good idea. Is it possible to put my children into care between the hours of four and eight, have someone else feed them, help with homework, and get them bathed and ready for bed?

To give them credit, my children are much more manageable now, on most occasions, but the concept of not having to deal with a baby during witching hour would have been an appealing one when they were smaller.

I know that's not the idea behind the proposed 24/7 concept, it's to help shiftworkers, or those required to work their own 24/7 jobs. But then again there are plenty of tennis mums exploiting the system by putting precious Isabella into care three days a week to allow time for a few sets down at Manuka, Thursday coffee and a weekly visit to the hairdressers.

And speaking of exploitation. Let's get behind the campaign being run by childcare workers, and we shouldn't call them workers, but early childhood educators, because that's what they are, petitioning the government for better wages.

United Voice, the nation's peak childcare union is leading the Big Steps campaign (http://bigsteps.org.au) seeking to win professional wages in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector.

''The ECEC is in the depths of a workforce crisis,'' says its website, ''with 180 educators leaving the sector each week due to low wages and conditions. With a chronic lack of qualified staff and no ability to retain existing staff, the sector faces ongoing instability for educators, children and their parents unless something changes.


''The solution is higher wages, but we know parents and employers can't afford to pay more. That is why Big Steps is calling on the Federal Government to make up the shortfall between award and professional wages in ECEC, to the tune of $1.4 billion in recurrent funding. A 'professional wage' is akin to that of a tradesperson who holds the same level of qualification as someone working in ECEC. Currently, an educator with a Certificate III earns just $18.58 per hour.''

As a parent who spent seven years in childcare, one of the arguments I had, with myself mainly, is why I felt guilty forking out $45 an hour for a cleaner, when I had no trouble leaving my children with women earning less than half of that. I still haven't reached a conclusion.

Ewen Jones, the Liberal National Party Member for Herbert, caused a kerfuffle recently when he suggested that childcare educators should be in the job ''for the love of it''.

''We all would like to make a million dollars but there are just some jobs that you're in just for the love of it and if these people are only chasing the dollar, then they are in the wrong career,'' Jones said.

''Yes I think childcare workers are poorly paid but … I don't think it's feasible that their combined pay should go up by $1.4 billion.

''The truth is that if the federal government was serious about this, they could make it happen right now. And if they want more money we should first question whether they have the right education and have the right degree on their hands to ask for more.''

Someone slap him.

I would think it rare that anyone does their job just ''for the love of it'', whether you worked as a childcare educator, an orthopaedic surgeon, a truck driver, or a journalist, even a politician.

Someone slap him again.

But there are no easy answers to any aspect of the childcare debate. Could the federal government put up the wage rate for workers, as Jones suggests? I don't know. Surely then teachers and nurses, for example, would have the same claim. Is that the answer?

As a parent, one of my biggest bugbears was the turnover of staff, 180 a week, as alluded to by the Big Steps website. Your child would just have become attached to a particular carer, you would have developed a relationship with them yourself, and then they'd leave. I totally understood why, but, in those years when I was in the heart of it, could barely sympathise.

There was one woman in particular who looked after my son in his preschool years at childcare. They bonded over rugby, she was a mad All Blacks supporter, and had a cheeky spirit they both shared. He looked forward to the days when she was there, and those days were his best, she knew to keep an eye on him, and was always willing to talk, to me, at the end of the day. And then she left. My son and I were both heartbroken.

I've run into her a couple of times since over the years. Once, she was working at a cafe, making coffees; most recently she told me she had set up her own house-cleaning business.

I thought to myself what a loss to the childcare sector. This women was firm, but kind and caring, the kind of women who expunged you of any guilt about deserting your baby while you headed off to work. The perfect early childhood educator.

As parents though, we have every right to wonder if increased wages will mean increased fees. Ninety dollars a day - give or take your government rebates and the like - is a ridiculous amount of money.

So we have choices to make. Either stay at home with our kids or be prepared to lump whatever increases there might be and think about it next time you pay your cleaner.

Twitter: @karenhardyCT