Wage grid doesn’t go far enough, entrenches pay inequity

Government released Nova Scotia’s Early Childhood Educator (ECE) compensation framework on October 11th with the promise that it “will help support licensed centers to offer more care, stabilize and grow the Early Childhood Education workforce and the child care sector,” and declared that “most of the 2,600 ECEs” would see a wage increase of an average 30%, retroactive to July 4th, 2022.

We are encouraged that government has listened to the suggestions of many dedicated advocates, ECEs, directors, families, and communitiy members in their calls for a wage grid to replace the existing wage floor; and welcome the initiative government took to increase their contribution to ensure that ECEs would receive their retroactive increases before the end of 2023.

ECEs in Atlantic Canada are among the lowest paid in the country

ECEs in Atlantic Canada are among the lowest paid in the country and an average 30% increase still falls short of providing most ECEs an adequate living wage in most economic regions. This is not the benchmark—this should be the bare minimum for a workforce that government continues to acknowledge as the core of the system.

71% of ECEs currently have post-secondary education and/or training. This profession is highly-skilled, essential, and happens to be 96% women. Even those at the top level of the proposed scale with 5+ years of experience and a Level 3 credential still do not compare to the salaries of male-dominated industries with similar education requirements.

The Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Becky Druhan has consistently affirmed that government has been working hard to “[ensure] that early childhood educators are compensated fairly,” that it “was an urgent priority,” and that acknowledging that “the work is incredibly overdue.” ECEs are rightfully disappointed to learn that their value continues to reinforce gender inequities and the persistent undervaluation of women’s work.

Nova Scotia is facing unprecedented inflation, recording higher than average costs across most categories in comparison to their provincial counterparts. Child Care Now Nova Scotia recently surveyed over 200 ECEs and Directors and even those at the highest end of the previous wage floor (~$19/hr) reported not being able to afford basic necessities such as food, shelter, and fuel to continue working. We cannot expect to build a quality system when the workforce is continuously overwhelmed and focused on economic security, and distracted by choices between shelter and food.

The highest end of the wage floor – is now the entry level for hopeful graduates entering the workforce. In the same survey, we learned that 91.7% of ECE respondents indicated that they were either “Highly Likely” or “Likely” to consider leaving the profession with 97.6% of those responses attributing “Inadequate Wages” as a determining factor. Affordability was similarly noted in 17.4% of the narrative replies. The wages that ECEs struggling to stay afloat and are considering leaving the profession at alarming rates receive—will now become the entry point for new educators. This is not an adequate benchmark to professionalize the workforce and create the system Nova Scotians have been promised in the Canada – Nova Scotia Early Learning and Child Care Agreement.

Without educators—there will be no spaces.

ECEs have continued to call for transformative changes to address the critical state of the sector and are left feeling frustrated by broken promises that they would be valued according to their work, which has proven untrue. Government has promised 1500 spaces this Fall, with an end-of-project target of 9,500. We must remind them that without educators—there will be no spaces. Retention and recruitment are core elements of creating a high-quality system—and without ECEs, there will be no system.

We know that high-quality early learning environments are dependent on decent, competitive wages and benefits; and must incentivize further education and professional development. This wage scale does neither of these. In addition to the abysmally low starting wage, ECEs who’ve worked in the field for more than 5 years can expect less than a $2.00 increase between Levels 1 and 2, and just .96¢ between Levels 2 and 3. This does not provide meaningful avenues for promotion and will hinder the desire for further education, likely resulting in a less-qualified workforce. Incentives for further learning should be encouraged and incentivized.

A snapshot of the proposed Compensation Framework, retrieved from: Early Childhood Educator Compensation | Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement (childcarenovascotia.ca)

A quality ELCC system—especially one built through the significant expenditure of public funds—demands effective public accountability. Government claims to have engaged in a consultation process by conducting a jurisdictional scan from across the country but with a particular focus on Atlantic Canada; but we already know that those wages are disproportionately lower than the rest of Canada and will therefore continue to perpetuate unsustainable results.

Additionally, provincial governments across Canada have just begun to roll out core elements of their respective agreements which aim to transform the state of early learning and child care across Canada—therefore, using existing data as a baseline is an insufficient model to achieve the transformative changes required to address the complex issues in the current workforce crisis.

We are calling on government to commit to releasing the details of the consultation process, including the resources used, and continue to engage in further consultations with evidenced-based democratic participation that is meaningful and valued at the core. This is a welcomed start, and we look forward to working with government, ECEs, operators, advocates, families, and researchers to ensure that there is forward movement until ECEs are truly compensated a fair wage for their work.

Early Childhood Educators can expect the proposed wage scale to be implemented by November 1st, 2022, with retroactive wages paid back to July 4th disbursed by mid-December.

Educators working conditions are our youngest community members learning conditions—and we must demand better.