Early Childhood Agreement Good For Children And Teachers
Early childhood teachers are today celebrating 20 years of an employment agreement that has taken them from being one of the lowest paid workforces in the country to being on the path to pay parity with primary and secondary teachers.
The Consenting Parties Collective Employment Agreement now covers a thousand teachers working in more than 170 early childhood education centres throughout the country. It’s the only multi employer agreement in the early childhood sector and the teachers covered by it will achieve full pay parity with their primary and secondary colleagues in July 2008.
Dr Helen May, Professor of Education at Otago University, was part of the team that negotiated the first Consenting Parties Award in 1984. She has written a history of the CP agreement which is being launched today at the Dunedin College of Education.
“The lesson to be learnt from looking at the 20 years spanned by this agreement is that improving the working conditions for early childhood staff, improves the learning conditions of the children they teach,” says Professor Helen May.
“Twenty years ago early childhood activists were making little headway in our battle to expand the availability of quality care and education for children in their early years.”
“We realised that the key to improving conditions for children in early childhood was to improve conditions for the staff. In 1982 the Early Childhood Workers Union was established, but it was not until 1985 that the union negotiated the first CP Award with wages.”
Professor May was a childcare worker in the early 1980s and became the first president of the Early Childhood Workers Union. At that time there were no minimum wages or conditions for childcare workers.
In June 1984 a group of employers, who ran a number of early childhood education centres, agreed to sit down with the newly formed union to negotiate a set of working conditions for their staff. This was during the wage and price freeze so they could not discuss pay. The result was the first Consenting Parties Award which set a limit on how long childcare workers were required to work each day and provided them with sick leave, holidays, clothing allowances and other core conditions.
The wage-price freeze was lifted when a Labour Government was elected in July 1984 and in April 1985 the union negotiated the first CP Award that included pay rates. The rate for a childcare supervisor with six years experience was set at $7.88 an hour, 90% of the salary paid to a kindergarten teacher with the same experience. This low pay rate reflects the low value placed on early childhood education 20 years ago.
Today, after years of activism and lobbying, teachers in kindergartens and those working in early childhood centres covered by the CP collective agreement are on the path to pay parity with primary and secondary teachers. They are now members of NZEI Te Riu Roa and agreements negotiated by the union will see kindergarten teachers achieve full parity in July next year, while the CP teachers will reach full parity two years later.
“The early childhood sector has been transformed in the last 20 years,” says Professor May.
“There is far greater recognition of the need to provide children with a good start in life by providing them with a quality education before they start school.”
“Research shows that the way to do that is to have qualified and registered teachers. I’m pleased to see the Government has set a goal of having all early childhood teachers qualified and registered by 2012 and is providing funding to enable us to reach that goal.”
Professor May says she’s concerned that this and other advances being made in the sector will be undermined if a change of Government results in a change in the direction of the current early childhood education policy.
“The 1990s were dark days for those working in the early childhood sector because the Employment Contracts Act removed the ability to improve conditions for children and staff through industrial bargaining.”
“Most staff were placed on individual contracts and lost their union coverage and the number of centres covered by the CP collective fell by 50%. It was a case of simply trying to keep the collective alive.”
Professor May says National-led Governments of the 1990s also pumped public money into private early childhood education centres, but there was little accountability and a significant slice of the subsidy was retained as profit by the private centres.
“For years early childhood has been the Cinderella of the education sector. It’s been a long hard struggle to get to the point where we now have a comprehensive 10 year plan for the sector and are building a world class early childhood education system.”
“It would be a huge setback for the country’s children if the gains that have been made and the good work that is being done were undermined by a change in the direction in early childhood policy,” says Professor May.