FOR a country that reacted decisively within hours of news breaking as to a cricket cheating scandal, it says a lot about our national priorities that the scandal engulfing our childcare sector continues to remain ignored.

Alarming details come to light about our most high-profile sporting team and suddenly everyone from the Prime Minister down is clamouring to have their say. But workers in one of the most important - yet underpaid - sectors of the Australian workforce threaten to walk off the job, and the response is? Crickets. (That would be crickets, as in embarrassing silence, not to be confused with the aforementioned game which naturally is never ignored).

This morning countless families across Australia have had their day thrown into chaos as a result of a childcare strike, with thousands of workers walking off the job in demand for better pay.

In a bid to sell the unsellable to those affected, stressed parents have been advised by the early childhood workers' union United Voice to consider today "Keep Your Children at Home Day".

Talk about euphemistic. It's a nice sentiment - but try explaining that one to the boss, particularly in a working week already cut short by a looming long weekend.

But childcare staff aren't to blame. In assuming responsibility for the care of very young children they hold some of the most important and demanding jobs in the country - yet for their efforts, they are paid a pittance.

Childcare workers protest for higher wages last year. (Pic: Richard Dobson)
Childcare workers protest for higher wages last year. (Pic: Richard Dobson)

Despite holding the necessary qualifications to supervise, protect, feed, entertain and educate babies, toddlers and preschoolers day in and day out, those employed in the childcare sector earn just over $20 an hour - half the average wage.

If cricket's ball-tampering scandal is a national disgrace, then surely this is nothing less than a national travesty.

As United Voice quite reasonably asks: "If 90 per cent of our brains are formed in the first four years, why are our early childhood educators paid only half the average national wage?"

Why indeed?

It's a shame that those most inconvenienced by today's industrial action are also those who happen to be childcare staff's biggest supporters: parents.

Despite Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham's attempts to send striking staff to the naughty corner, those who witness first hand the tireless and often thankless nature of their work would be the last to begrudge them a pay rise.

Anyone who has walked into a centre to pick up their child - and watched on in amazement while an ever-patient educator simultaneously comforts a crying child, while fetching a drink for another, tying the shoelaces of another and breaking up an argument between two more - would support their demands for a 30 per cent pay rise without hesitation.

But with Australian parents being charged some of the highest childcare fees in the world, at a rate of $180 to $200 a day in the major cities, where is the money going to come from?

People without kids may consider it unfair to subsidise childcare for parents, but that’s part of living in a decent and humane society.
People without kids may consider it unfair to subsidise childcare for parents, but that’s part of living in a decent and humane society.

The answer? From you. From me. From every single taxpayer in the country. And yes, even the ones who don't have any children.

Look I know what you're going to say: "Why should I have pay for other people's kids?" - but that's what living in a decent and humane society is all about.

Perfectly healthy people pay for the upkeep of hospitals; the able-bodied contribute towards the NDIS; heterosexual couples campaign for same-sex marriage; and those of us who struggled to pass PE at school happily fund the gold-medal aspirations of those who compete in the Commonwealth Games.

And lest I be accused of making a self-serving grab for cash, it so happens my own children have both graduated childcare - so while a long-overdue overhaul of the system would have been greatly appreciated in my household a couple of years ago, I have no vested interest to disclose.

Parent or not, the undeniable truth is that childcare reform in Australia is painfully overdue. It's time for the federal government to catch up with the needs of families and children in 2018 and to invest in early education to the tune of not just thousands, but millions - possibly even billions - of dollars.

It is inexcusable for a country as well-off and well-educated as ours to continue saddling parents with unaffordable fees while expecting workers to exist on miserly reimbursement.

We wasted no time in finding our collective voice to condemn cricket's cheating scandal. How much longer will it take for us to condemn another national disgrace?

Sarrah Le Marquand is the editor-in-chief of Stellar magazine and the founding editor of RendezView.


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