Workers a step closer to massive pay rise

Early childhood educators can now work together across employers to bargain for better pay. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short

Early childhood workers are a step closer to pay rises of up to 25 per cent, after winning a landmark decision under the Fair Work Commission.

In the first order of its kind under Labor’s industrial relations reforms, the Commission on Wednesday approved an application for multi-employer bargaining, meaning early childhood educators can work together across the industry to negotiate pay rises.

The application was made by the United Workers Union, Australian Education Union, and Independent Education Union of Australia, on behalf of employees from 64 different childcare centres.

Unions have long been angling for a pay raise of up to 25 per cent for low paid childcare workers, and say the Commission’s decision is a step in the right direction for better wages.

The decision means workers will have the right to ask the Commonwealth – as a third party funder – to the negotiating table, and also gives employees the right to take protected industrial action.

Early childhood educators can now work together across employers to bargain for better pay. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Brenton Edwards

The unions lodged the application after the Albanese government made changes to industrial relations legislation, allowing workers in the same industry – but across different employers – to negotiate their pay deals together.

The sweeping reforms, which came into effect in June, were designed to in part address the low rates of enterprise bargaining in the early childhood education sector.

In making its decision, the Commission determined the workers had low pay and all employers had “significant common interests”, including access to federal government funding.

The Commission concluded that the matters “overwhelmingly favor the making of a supported bargaining authorisation”.

ACTU president Michele O'Neil heralded the decision. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

While there is still a long way to go until workers see any changes to their pay, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neal said the Commission’s approval would allow employers to set “a new standard” for more than 500 childcare centres.

She said it was a “victory” that workers would now have a seat at the table.

“For years early childhood educators’ real wages have gone backward, forcing them to leave the job they love to put food on the table for their own families in this cost-of-living crisis,” she said.

“Over 90 per cent of workers in the sector are women who in the past have been locked out of the bargaining process and had their work undervalued.

“Lifting early childhood educator wages is crucial to recognise the value of their work and put a stop to the workforce crisis that is devastating the sector.”

Unions are now able to pull in other employers into the deal once an agreement is struck, if the majority of workers support doing so.

The landmark decision could trigger other industries, like retail and fast food, to enter into similar sorts of negotiations.