Fast Food Cashiers Can Earn More Than Childcare Workers

"I think that's ridiculous, it's just not fair."

In Australia’s biggest early education walk-off, 7000 childcare workers are walking off the job today demanding better pay. So, just how bad are things?

Ten daily spoke to two childcare workers and compared their training and pay to a Maccas cashier, a coffee barista and a first year metal fitter.

The results, may surprise you.

This Grandmother Earns $23.52 An Hour

Deborah Christie has worked in the early learning sector for 12 years. She started off earning $19 an hour.

"My pay has only gone up three or four dollars in that time but now I am on my own and have a mortgage to pay."

Deborah has a Certificate III and says she loves nurturing and educating children.

"I work with under twos and they are all vying for our attention. We have nappies to change, we have profile books, setting up lessons in the classroom, we have to write we have to do observations of the children, meals to serve, beds to set up, put children to sleep and it goes on all day."

Despite being almost 60, she says her superannuation is so low, she can't even consider retiring.

96 percent of childcare workers are women and the median age is 34. IMAGE: Supplied

"The first five years of a child's life is when they learn the most, and for a lot of them, they spend most of that time with us -- it baffles me that we are so poorly paid."

READ MORE: They Look After Your Kids But Can't Afford A Heater 

This 21-Year-Old Earns $22 An Hour

Sarah Wilson is relatively new to the industry, and earns $22 an hour.

She was put off entering after seeing many of her friends leave the field all together.

"I don't think its fair to work in an industry that I love but then I have to sacrifice being paid decently."

Early childhood educators study between 18 months and four years to gain a Certificate III, Diploma or university degree in early learning.

For her, the thought of earning just a couple of dollars or more at the age of 59 (like Deborah) is frightening.

"I think that's ridiculous, it's just not fair."

A 2016 study found a high turnover rate of early educators of 37 percent per annum --  roughly double the national average and triple that of primary school teachers.

"Quite a lot of people I know have left the industry or have just avoided going into directly because of the pay, I know I personally nannied and put off going into childcare because the pay is so low."
Serving Fries, Making Coffee And Other Jobs With Better Pay

Both Deborah and Sarah have a Certificate III tertiary qualification. A metal fitter with the equivalent tertiary training can expect to earn $35.63 an hour. That's around 61 percent more than a childcare work. 

Similarly an electrician with a Certificate III has an average hourly rate of $36.80 -- as compared with $22 an hour -- which is what many childcare workers earn.

A quick scour of a job seekers website, shows vacancies for coffee baristas who'll earn $60 000 plus super (and in some cases plus a bonus). This is around $30 an hour.

A full or part-time McDonalds worker who is 21-years-old  can earn between $21 and $26 an hour -- before penalties and allowances.

A cashier working at McDonalds in Jupiter. IMAGE: Getty Images

According the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average hourly rate workforce-wide is $42.27 an hour, or $82 720 annually. The highest trained early childhood educator earns $27.50 an hour, or annually $54, 535.

READ MORE: 'We're Not Babysitters': Childcare Workers Demand Better Pay

The Business Perspective

In February this year, an attempt to bring a pay equity case through the Fair Work Commission was dismissed.

"This is a very difficult situation," said Anne Nalder, Founder and CEO of Small Business Association of Australia.

"On the one hand, wages for childcare staff are pretty low and they need to increase but also broadly across the country, wages have been flat for some time," she told ten daily.

Childcare workers gathered in Canberra today. IMAGE: Supplied

She said small business have it "very tough" with stringent compliance procedures, rising electricity costs and payroll tax for some.

"Both parties need to come to an agreement and compromise -- for staff there needs to be a bit of a pay increase but there also needs to be a win for business too."

Contact the author at alattouf@networkten.com.au

Featured image: Getty Images