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News brief: Early childhood educators deserve equal pay for equal work regardless of where they work, union says

Nan McFadgen, Claudia Chender, Margot Nickerson and Daphnee Hahn. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – There is a substantial wage and benefits gap between Early Childhood Educators (ECE) employed by child care centres and those who work at the provincial pre-primary program offered in all elementary schools throughout the province. 

The imbalance in compensation was a direct result of the roll-out of the pre-primary program by the province in 2017.

At a press conference at Province House, hosted by Nova Scotia NDP MLA Claudia Chender, early childhood educators and CUPE Nova Scotia president Nan McFadgen explained why this is not only unfair, it’s also creating all kinds of problems for child care centres throughout the province.

See also: Newsbrief: Rural Nova Scotia one big child care desert

One of the major problems is around retention and recruitment, said Margot Nickerson, president of CUPE 4745, representing six child care centers in HRM. 

Because pay, pensions and benefits are better for ECEs employed in the pre-primary program, centers are left with not enough early childhood educators and staff there face huge workload issues, Nickerson said.

“It’s really important for the public to understand that early childhood educators working in child care centers are exactly the same as the ones that are working in public schools. Both groups have exactly the same classification levels, both are regulated by the Department of Education and everybody does exactly the same work,” said Nickerson.

Daphnee Hahn is an ECE who works in Halifax. Her pay is $19 per hour. Working in the pre-primary program not only includes better pay and more generous benefits, it also means that you have a pension plan, something most other ECEs can only dream about, she said. Despite all this, Hahn continues to work in a child care centre because that’s where she can accomplish most, she believes. 

“As an educator I will have the biggest impact when I can focus on the child from 18 months to when it’s five years old. I don’t want to have only a group of four year olds for just 10 months. There should be equality between all ECEs, so they can make a choice in terms of what’s best for them,” Hahn said.

“It’s wonderful that this program has opened up for four year olds, and that it’s giving them an opportunity to have great education. Some of my fellow graduates have chosen to work in that program, and I am grateful to them for it. But whether we choose pre-primary or child care, we should all be making the same amount of money,” said Hahn.

Nan McFadgen asked to consider the bigger picture. We’re talking here about essential workers, almost exclusively female.

“Almost all early childhood educators are women and earn poverty level wages. Yet they have been there for us throughout the pandemic, helping to restart Nova Scotia’s economy and making it possible for Nova Scotian businesses and public service providers to operate,“ she said. 

“Government regulates the early childhood education sector and ultimately, the decision to correct the wage disparity rests with the premier and the minister. Early childhood educators are highly qualified professionals who deserve better from the Liberal government. Let’s make sure they have economic security now and in their retirement,” said McFadgen.

“What the folks here today are asking for is absolutely essential to gender equality. This is a request for equal pay for equal work and the recognition of the value of care work,” said Chender. 

Chender alluded to a recent CCPA report that showed that $10.8 million in federal funding in support of the early childhood educator workforce remained unspent in Nova Scotia. 

“What we’re seeing here is the province making choices about where they want to match funds, and where they want to leverage federal dollars. It defies logic that you wouldn’t  leverage the maximum number of federal dollars in this case,” Chender said.

Concerned parents, family members, and others can visit the campaign website EconomicSecurity.ca to send a message to their MLA and Minister Zach Churchill, asking them to allocate adequate funding to ensure equal compensation for all early childhood educators.

See also: Unappreciated and underpaid: Early Childhood Educators neglected at our peril, report suggests

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