NSW’s subsistence child care workers
yesterday finally won a pay rise, but the immediate SMH response is to headline the higher fees that inevitably will follow.

While child care is being corporatised with
flash returns for investors and the woolly debate about tax payer subsidies
meanders on, child care centre employees have been shamelessly exploited with
pay rates lower than supermarket shelf stackers – not that there’s anything
wrong with stacking supermarket shelves.

The pay rise granted yesterday is $80 a
week for those at the bottom of the pile, but even that’s phased in with five
increments of 4% every six months. Yes, if you work backwards on the
maths, you can see they are woefully paid now and won’t be much better off in
two years.

At
the top of the career path, “Some senior staff, including the co-ordinators of larger centres, will have
their wages increased from $678 to $835.” Gee, $42K a year for running a large
child care centre, that’ll have investment bankers all over town contemplating
a career change to get into management.

Meanwhile the
Smage‘s Ross Gittins does one of his nice jobs of peering through the rhetoric to the reality of
John Howard’s view of the little woman’s role, but even the rational Gittins
seems to pull up short of examining the nonsense that is almost taken for
granted: That taxpayers should happily subsidise a service that costs more than
the clients of the service can earn.

The situation is
worsened by the stratospheric effective marginal tax rates for low-to-middle
income earners losing family assistance payments, but putting that aside, it is
reasonable for taxpayers to ask why they should be paying $X to child care
worker A, so that parent B can earn $(X – Y). Rationally, we would be better off if A was
stacking supermarket shelves and B was caring for children. It seems that
thought has occurred to John Howard while Peter Costello is saying whatever he
thinks might make him popular.

Peter Fray

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