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A Workforce Strategy or a Payout to the Commercial Sector?

The median wage for registered early childhood educators (RECEs) in Ontario is now estimated to be about $23.00 an hour. As we all heard last week, Ontario is boosting the wage floor of RECEs to $23.86 an hour next year, and any RECE earning less than $25 will get at least a $1.00 per hour wage boost. Good news? Yes, better than a kick in the backside, but not equitable and not designed to keep the best qualified and most experienced RECEs from leaving the sector.

Only about 50% of RECEs will benefit from moving the wage floor to $23.86. And the majority of these RECEs – currently terribly underpaid – are employed in commercial centres. Owners of these centres will be receiving substantial help retaining their low-paid workers, while centres that have always tried very hard to pay reasonable wages to their staff – overwhelmingly not-for-profit and public centres – will receive little or no help. 

The Ministry of Education says that these reforms “will ensure Ontario is providing competitive starting wages for RECEs in Canada”. But, RECEs who move to PEI tomorrow will get a starting wage of $28.86 an hour, or about $10,000 more per year for a full-time position. And the housing is much cheaper there too!

According to Minister Lecce, about 25% of RECEs in Ontario will receive no increase at all from these wage reforms. How is that fair or equitable? How does that help the sector to retain its best and most experienced educators? 

According to the federal job bank statistics, early childhood educators and assistants are at the bottom of the ladder when compared to other female-dominated professions including medical administrative assistants, admin assistants, legal admin assistants, licensed practical nurses, executive assistants and dental hygienists and dental therapists. Lecce’s wage supplement is unlikely to change this.

This initiative not only raises the serious question of whether this government is choosing to reward its commercial lobbyists and supporters rather than seriously deal with the critical workforce crisis in child care centres, but also whether the Ministry has given any thoughtful consideration about how this action might affect RECEs who won’t benefit. As B2C2 reported last year in response to its survey of child care operators in Ontario, registered early childhood educators were feeling burned out, disrespected and undervalued. Even at that time, many RECEs were considering quitting the field. Now, their intentions may become fast tracked as they realize that their contributions are not valued.

By rewarding the lowest paid RECEs and ignoring the higher paid RECEs, the Minister is encouraging us to believe that RECEs earning above the median are getting too much; the government’s actions seem designed to raise the floor but lower the ceiling.

This action is also an attack on so many high quality non-profit child care centres that have, over the years, recognized the value of having quality, trained staff and made a priority of raising their wages in order to enhance the quality of their centres. It is also an attack on the unionized workforce that has been able to bargain for higher wages. Left out of this biased reward system are special needs resource workers who are critical to the system at this time as well as the untrained staff, the cooks and housekeepers – all key players in providing a cohesive and well-organized centre. As for obtaining parity with DECEs (designated early childhood educators working in kindergarten programs), Lecce’s comparison is off base. The average DECE in school boards across Ontario is closer to $29.00 an hour (even higher in Toronto, Ottawa and larger cities). 

The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care and the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario have been advocating for some time that RECEs should be earning between $30 and $40 per hour and there should be a wage grid that recognizes these rates. Untrained assistants, they argue, should receive a minimum of $25/hour. More and more RECEs are turning to the municipal centres as guides for the amount they should be earning. In Toronto, the attached wage grid shows the gulf between the Ministry initiative and the starting wages earned by City child care staff.

City Of Toronto Child Care Staff 2024 Salary Schedule

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The Ministry has warned that there may well be a shortage of 8500 RECEs by 2026. It is very doubtful that this latest policy initiative will do much to change that scenario.

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