By Voice General Secretary Deborah Lawson
Today (Thursday 16 February 2017) started very early with an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money (22:44) at 05.35. Not a programme that a general secretary of an education union would normally be expected to participate in, so why was I asked?
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published a list of employers identified as paying their employees below the level of the Minimum Wage. The list contained about two dozen day care providers, meaning that a number of childcare professionals were/are not only low paid, but were/are not being paid at the legal minimum.
During the interview, I was asked a number of questions, including why and how this can happen, implying that employers in the day care sector are deliberately withholding money from staff. I dispute that. Like those who work in childcare, most day care providers/owners are not in the business of childcare to become millionaires. The last time money was made from children they were put up chimneys and down mines. Day care providers, like their employees, want to make a difference to the lives of children – they want to see them fly and give them the opportunity to become everything they want to be.
What the interview didn’t fully explore was why the level of salary for childcare professionals is so low – the causes, why childcare professionals are firmly still amongst the lowest paid of the whole workforce, despite their levels of training, qualification and commitment, and the importance of early years and childcare to child development, education, employment, the economy and society.
Ok, I accept that is quite a lot for an eight minute slot on a money programme at 05.35 in the morning, but without it there is no context.
The lack of funding in early years is well known, with the cause being the shortfall between the level of funding government pays and the cost to providers to deliver the free entitlement. This has unnecessarily inflated the cost of care that is additional to the free entitlement. So while government is keen to make childcare more affordable, it appears that the cost of doing so is being met by providers, not government.
This in turn reduces the capacity of providers to reward their employees with a salary which better reflects their worth and values and recognises their knowledge, skill and expertise. Only by increasing childcare fees, and by doing so risking the wrath of government, parents and the press, will providers have the financial resource to pay a salary that will lift childcare professionals out of the unenviable position of being amongst the lowest paid workforce in the land. This, of course, is contrary to everything that the Government is aspiring to. Further investment is therefore needed, along with a strong workforce strategy and career structure for childcare to avoid the level of recruitment and retention crisis that has befallen the teaching profession.
Of course, employees have a responsibility to check their contracts, salary payments and slips and know their rights. Voice: the union for education professionals can help the early years and childcare workforce in this respect and support individuals to ensure they receive their legal entitlement, while continuing to lobby for salary and career structure that reflects their true worth.
Quotations from the interview:
“In relation to the childcare sector, the majority of providers actually want to be paying their staff not just the Minimum Wage but their true value, but they are unable to at the moment because of the funding crisis within the early years.”
“There is most certainly a funding crisis, both within early years and in the education sector more broadly.
“That means that there is not the money around.”
“The majority of providers don’t go into the sector to make a huge amount of money. They do it because they want to make a difference – as do the people who actually work in that sector.”
“In our experience the majority of people, even in quite senior positions in childcare, are on either the Minimum Wage or very small amounts above the Minimum Wage.
“I would echo the Government’s advice to employees to check their salary slips and to know their rights – and if they don’t, they need to be a member of a union, and we can help them with that one!”
“Employers have a duty to be aware of and comply with the different legal national minimum and living wage rates. If workers are concerned that they are not being paid the correct rates, or if employers need more information about the legal requirements,” further information is available from Acas.