Crisis in childcare industry
EARLY childhood workers are in crisis, an industry summit in Lismore heard on Saturday, with 15,000 leaving the profession each year as they struggle with low wages and increasing stress.
Childcare workers are passionate about their vocation, but many can't afford to stay in the industry in which even a centre director's pay is half that of their equivalent in the public education sector said United Voice President, Rebecca Reilly.
"Childcare is an essential service and we are losing valuable trained professionals, and this is having an effect on the development of Australian children," Ms Reilly said.
"We need an overhaul of the whole system," she said.
The Big Step campaign for wage increases would be a Federal election issue Ms Reilly said.
Attending Saturday's crisis summit, Ballina Childcare worker Lisa Cheal said she can barely afford to pay her own car rego, but still buys supplies for the young children in her care.
"I live week by week on the wages of a childcare worker," she said.
Ms Cheal estimates she's spent $850 out of her own pocket this year for basic supplies such as craft materials, books and cushions for her young class and most childcare workers do the same.
"I've been working with children for 15 years, and my family is always telling me to leave," Ms Cheal said.
"They can't understand why I stay. I'm studying for my early childhood teaching degree, and if I did leave for a primary school I'd get $60,000 - but I love the infants," she said. "It's a constant emotional battle."
Tighter government regulations, including staff-child ratios, were not being matched by increased pay, leaving workers under enormous strain Ms Cheal said.
"I've seen shocking quality of care and appalling conditions in the years I've been working," she said.
"Some days you won't have a toilet break for four hours, because if there are only two of us on staff that day you will be leaving another worker on her own with 14 crying babies, and you just can't do it."
A high turn-over of childcare staff needs to change said Burringbar's Gumnut Pre-School director Joan Brigham.
"Every time we lose someone it's disruptive to staff and to the children's learning as they adjust to a new teacher," she said.