Children in daycare centres will be sent home early on Thursday, as some of the sector's 80,000 mostly female staff strike to narrow the large pay gap between men and women.
Several childcare centres in Melbourne's north and south-east will be forced to shut soon after 3pm, and staff will suspend normal activities at a centre in western Sydney, in a dramatic escalation of the early childhood workforce's battle for better wages.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 6th Sep 2016
Anyone who has worked with children in the capacity of a teacher, child care worker, in a youth or sporting organisation, or as a parent, would probably agree with me when I say that children are not just like small humans, they are small humans. Everyone is born, spends a great deal of time mewling, puking and whinging, and then we get taller. The only difference between children and say people in the legal or banking professions, is the quality and expense of their clothing. I have seen lawyers, judges and people in positions of supposedly responsible management exhibit exactly the same sort of unreasonableness as I've seen in six year olds. In the case of judges, it has unfortunately been proven that one of the factors which determines the outcome of their decisions, is whether or not they've had lunch. In other words, it matters not if you're six or sixty, how you behave can be affected by whether or not you've had din-dins.
So when I read that childcare workers are going on strike because they want to be paid more for doing a job, which can literally mean cleaning up after humans have soiled their pants and not just metaphorically speaking, I think "good on them". Working with small humans is a job which is undervalued by society and I think should be better rewarded. Notwithstanding the fact that many small humans are the offspring of equally horrible and irrational big humans, who can be equally as unreasonable.
What I don't understand is why this argument is being framed around a social justice and gender pay gap narrative. The media likes to portray this sort of thing in those terms and those terms only, mostly because the media and especially authoritarian and economically rightist media likes to portray just about every issue as a distillery of extreme positions because that helps to sell copy.
If we remove the obviously emotive framing device which is designed to make other unreasonable humans who read it, start raging and spitting invective, then what we have here is an ordinary pay dispute which must have passed the point of rational negotiation and the people supplying their labour feel that there is no other logical way to make their point known and their feelings voiced. Say what you like about the relative skills required to do the job, the point remains that having to work with small humans can be a horrible job and they feel that they're not rewarded enough for doing it.
To the hard nosed authoritarian north and the touchy feely libertarian south, y'all can stop yelling now. You're both starting to resemble those same small humans which need looking after.
What I found interesting in the course of looking at this, wasn't rates of pay or hours and working conditions but the argument that supposedly unskilled workers don't have a right to protest this. The opinion expressed on talkback radio (and this could be an argument that I need to stop paying attention to talkback radio) is that because these people don't have degrees and higher education to the same extent as teachers and university lecturers, that they shouldn't be allowed to make a protest. The sentiment is that they should just accept their conditions and of they don't like them, they should leave.
It is this sort of attitude which exactly describes in my opinion why people who work with children do deserve to be rewarded better. Not only are they asked to put up with children but they need to deal with their parents; and the sort of parents who send their children to childcare facilities are likely to be either more stressed out because they are busily trying to make ends meet and need both parents working or more likely they are single parents who are almost always mothers because faulty fathers have abrogated their responsibilities.
The truth is that there more or less has always been either an implied right to protest or a statutory right to protest. The right to free speech most definitely exists in Australian law and the Fair Work Act 2009 confirms the right to industrial action, which by the way includes the withdrawal of labour services.
Protected industrial action
Industrial action is protected industrial action for a proposed enterprise agreement if it is one of the following:
(a) employee claim action for the agreement (see section 409);
(b) employee response action for the agreement (see section 410);
(c) employer response action for the agreement (see section 411).
- Section 408, Fair Work Act 2009
You don't tend to hear about industrial action in the twenty first century as much as in previous years because our relationship with work itself is changing. Nevertheless, I rather like the idea in principle of a strike. With respect to the issue of labour markets, a strike has the effect of sending an immediate jolting signal that the supply curve for labour upwards; this should have the effect of creating both a new equilibrium position for the price of labour within that market. It should also be noted that the labour market is a very very sticky one when it comes to changing prices. Unlike the price of petrol and oil where the price is as viscous as the product itself, the equilibrium prices in the labour market are as sticky as a mixture of honey, concrete, bubblegum and Pritt stick, which has been turned into marshmallow sized objects and shoved up the nose of Toxteth O'Grady.
I hope that the outcome for these childcare workers is good. Working with humans is mostly horrible and working with the offspring of horrible humans is bound to be even more horrible. The obvious question which needs to be put to those people opposed to increases in rates of pay for childcare workers is would they do the job for that rate of pay if it came down to it? If the answer is "no" then you seriously have to bring into question the content of the character of such a person. I will admit that I trade in hyperbole when writing these things but the fact remains that working with children is hard and if anyone in society really deserves their wages, it's definitely childcare workers; even more so than people in the legal or banking professions, who spend far too much time mewling, puking and whinging.