The Labor spokeswoman for early childhood education, Amanda Rishworth, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age: “At this point we are saying that we are not going to wait for the Fair Work Commission to make any changes.”
“Early childhood educators deserve a pay increase immediately and we will cover that cost,” she said. “So it is a separate cost.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought to portray the May 18 election as a contest between higher taxes under Labor and essential services funded by responsible economic management under the Coalition, after Mr Shorten dubbed the national poll “a referendum on wages”.
Labor has costed its childcare wage rebate at $9.9 billion over a decade, with most of the funds to be distributed in the final years.
Asked repeatedly what the annual cost of the plan would be at its peak – and whether taxpayers would continue subsidising pay packets in perpetuity – Ms Rishworth said she did “not have the figure on me”.
Ms Rishworth said 100,000 workers – those with a TAFE or higher qualification – would benefit.
The Independent Education Union says early childhood teachers working in long daycare do similar work to primary school teachers, but have historically been underpaid because more than 95 per cent are women.
About 15,000 childcare workers on the Educational Services (Teachers) Award are currently paid between $50,017 and $69,208 a year, depending on their level of experience.
Independent Education Union assistant secretary Carol Matthews said she was hopeful the union could win its pay equity case with Mr Shorten’s support.
“Labor has committed to support for pay equity and we would be hoping that, given there is an actual case before the Fair Work Commission that is seeking actual improvement for a group of female-dominated employees, that there would be some significant support,” Ms Matthews said.
“They could both intervene in the proceedings in a more high profile way.”
Mr Shorten has promised to legislate if he becomes prime minister to make it easier for unions to pursue higher wages for female-dominated industries in the Fair Work Commission, paving the way for aged care and disability workers to also seek large pay increases.
A Labor spokeswoman would not rule out intervening in the union’s case, which will be heard in June, if a Shorten government was unable to pass the legislation before the hearing.
Labor industrial relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor has blamed the failure of a similar case by the main childcare union United Voice on a lack of support from the Coalition government.
The Australian Services Union, then led by ACTU secretary Sally McManus, won a historic pay equity case in 2012 for workers on the social and community services award, with the support of the Gillard government and then workplace relations minister, Mr Shorten.
In the decision, the commission granted 150,000 workers pay rises of between 23 and 45 per cent over eight years.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.