Margaret Carey is the director of Clovelly Child Care Centre, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. She has worked in early childhood education for over 25 years in a variety of roles, from cooking to art teaching.
On Wednesday 8 March 2017 – International Women’s Day – at 3pm, she joined early childhood educators across the country in a mass walk off. Their rationale? Protesting against the sector’s lowly wages.
Early Learning Review chatted with Carey about why she downed tools. We also discussed families who support a pay rise, and whether the government can do more to help early learning professionals financially.
ELR: What made you decide to participate in the walk-off?
MC: I just think as a professional in the early childhood sector, part of what we do draws from a code of ethics. But, if we advocate for children and families, then I think that we should be able to advocate for ourselves. And I also think taking part in this comes from a sense of social justice.
What were your particular demands?
We would just like somebody to take notice. It feels like, as a sector, we’ve been ignored for years and years. And, because of the nature of the work, and the nature of a lot of people who work in it, they don’t want to upset families, because they know the massive impact that it could have. So, we didn’t take industrial action; we did a walk-off with the support of our families.
The idea is that it coincided with a lot of other centres doing the same thing on International Women’s Day, to try and show the extent of disappointment, really, in how we are treated.
Can you describe what actually occurred? Did everyone in your centre participate?
Once the parent management committee decided to support us, we explained it all to parents and asked if they could come and collect their children at 3pm, so that we would be able to walk-off. We couldn’t do it if we had all the children.
We knew that there are some families that this would be impossible for, particularly single parent families, or people with commitments that they couldn’t change at all, so we also had some educators stay, to be with the children that couldn’t leave.
We are a 55-place centre, and in the end, we only had three children who couldn’t be picked up.
— Big Steps (@UnitedVoiceECEC) March 8, 2017
How is the workplace environment under the current pay conditions?
It’s really difficult, particularly if you are single, particularly if you have a family. But, you know, we had a staff meeting last year, where we were looking at how we are surviving as people, and the question was asked, ‘who owns their own home?’, and not one person put their hand up!
We are in the eastern suburbs, which is sort of an affluent area, but if you want to rent somewhere here, it’s not cheap! So, just to be able to live close to where you work is a huge problem here.
The government has said, in response to previous protests, that it can’t make changes to wages, only the Fair Work Commission can do this. What’s your response to this?
The government doesn’t take any responsibility for the early childhood sector, except on a regulatory level. But, both state and federal government take responsibility for secondary education and primary school education, and I really think that they need to take responsibility for early childhood education.
Final question: what did you think of the amount of early childhood educators that participated in the protest, nationwide?
I thought it was really positive. Just to do something on the same day is a major achievement. If you look at the sector itself, it was only a small percentage but, to me, it symbolically represents far more. And, after it happened, or during the build up to it, I have been contacted by a number of places to ask how they can get involved.
I think that the general perception of educators, within the field, is that they really want to see change, and they believe that they are worth more.Want to share your thoughts on this topic? Do you have an idea for a story?