Thousands of early childhood educators have walked off the job in a nationwide protest, flocking to rallies in capital cities to call for higher pay and “a reason to stay”.
More than 50 child care centres in WA were affected by the strike action, with some shutting down for a full day and others partially closed.
Around 150 educators who packed the steps of Perth’s James Street amphitheatre on Wednesday chanted “what do we want? A reason to stay”.
The United Workers Union members had three main demands for Canberra — increase their pay, place more value on early learning as part of the education system and to put children ahead of profits.
Speakers who addressed the rally said the sector was “in crisis”, with undervalued workers leaving in droves and childcare centres forced to turn children away because of staff shortages.
They said highly-qualified educators were paid as little as $24.76 an hour m while unqualified babysitters charged $30 — leaving some struggling to pay their rent or to afford a car.
Unicare early education centre at the University of WA was one of the centres that shut for the day, sending 27 educators to the rally.
Unicare educator and Educational Leaders Association chair Doreen Blyth said the centre’s parent-run board had voted to support the one day closure.
“We’ve not had one negative comment — every parent has been supportive,” she said.
Ms Blyth, who also addressed protesters, said educators were professionals, but if they were not paid professional rates they were more likely to leave for other jobs.
“Today in WA there’s over 600 job ads, and hundreds of those are for multiple vacant positions,” she said.
Parent Hayley Parker felt so strongly about the issue she attended the protest with her two-year-old Maribel Close.
A former secondary teacher who left the profession because of burn-out, she said she wanted to show her support for staff from her daughter’s Mt Nasura centre.
Goodstart Early Learning, the biggest not-for-profit child care provider in WA with 1200 staff at 52 centres, said educators from around 20 centres joined the protest. All centres remained open, but many parents picked up their children early in support of educators.
Chief executive Julia Davison said Goodstart backed the call for a wage increase. “Early childhood educators and teachers should be paid wages comparable to government schools,” she said.
Federal Early Childhood Education Minister Anne Aly said the government was working to deliver a stronger early childhood education workforce, who should be recognised as educators, not child minders.
“We’re increasing the number of university spots, bringing forward fee free TAFE places, updating the Fair Work Act to give more workers access to the benefits of bargaining and taking action to close the gender pay gap,” she said.