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Academics join in against preschool gender pay gap

‘Just because it isn’t legal prejudice, doesn’t mean (mostly female) childcare workers aren’t discriminated against because of their gender.’

This has been the rallying cry of education unions, such as the Independent Education Union of Australia (IEUA), for years. Now, an autonomous round table has joined the chorus.

Both the IEUA and the Work and Family Policy Roundtable – which consists of senior academics in the work, care and family policy fields, are petitioning for the Fair Work Act to be changed, so that female pay discrimination can be officially recognised by the Fair Work Commission with or without a gender comparison.

Poorly paid preschool teachers and childcare workers are a key stimulus for this initiative. In its pre-election publication, Work, Care & Family Policies – Election Benchmarks 2016, the Roundtable proposed that one of the major causes for the gender pay gap is the undervaluation of jobs done primarily by women, like early childhood teaching.

Verena Heron, IEUA NSW/ACT Branch industrial officer, gave the basis for the union’s call to change the law. “I think [the early childhood education profession] is undervalued because its workforce is 94 per cent female,” she surmised. To make matters worse, “their ability to bargain [for higher wages] is quite limited because they’re small centres.”

The joint union-Roundtable appeal is especially pertinent as the IEUA is pursuing a wage claim with the Fair Work Commission on behalf of teachers employed in preschools and childcare centres around Australia. “These are overwhelmingly female employees who are paid much less than teachers in other areas and male professionals in other industries,” Carol Matthews, IEUA NSW/ACT Branch assistant secretary, explained.

However, as with the United Voice union’s failed application, the IEUA’s has been hamstring by the current anti-discrimination legislation, which requires a gender comparison. In early childhood education, this is difficult for an obvious reason: just 6 per cent of the workforce is male.

Given the mammoth efforts to decrease the early education pay gap, just how large is it? Heron says early childhood educators are paid 20 per cent less than school teachers.

Why is better pay for early childhood educators so vital? Heron points to the necessity of quality educators – more money is needed to attract and retain them. As for why quality is essential, “Numerous studies have shown [early childhood education is] the basis for success for all children entering the school system,” she pronounced. “The effect of this will carry on, not only in the first couple of years in school, but through to high school.”

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