B.C. falling behind on wages for early childhood educators amidst staff shortage: Report

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Low wages leading to daycare staffing crisis in B.C.
WATCH: Childcare educators say their wage does not represent the value of their work. B.C. is falling behind other provinces in terms of a livable wage for childhood educators according to a new study. Travis Prasad reports. – Jul 10, 2023

British Columbia is falling behind on wages for early childhood educators (ECEs) compared to other provinces as it expands its $10-a-day child care program, a new report has found.

In 2021, the provincial government committed to developing a wage grid for ECEs that would create competitive salaries and improve recruitment and retention in the profession. The grid, or a timeline for its implementation, has not yet been announced.

“We’re really fortunate in B.C. that the provincial government has introduced a $4-an-hour wage top-up for early childhood educators, but what we’re seeing is that the rest of the country — recognizing the challenge — has pulled further ahead,” said Sharon Gregson of the Coalition for Child Care Advocates of BC.

A July report from that organization and Early Childhood Educators of BC found the “effective wage” for ECEs in B.C. is $20.75 per hour — less than their counterparts in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Yukon.

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The effective wage is defined as a jurisdiction’s minimum possible wage, factoring in publicly-funded ECE wage supports and the starting point on any applicable wage grid.

“If we look at the average wage for ECEs in the province, it’s just $24.32 an hour,” Gregson said. “This is why people are leaving the sector and not entering in the first place.”

In an emailed statement, B.C. Minister for the State of Child Care Grace Lore said her staff are reviewing the report.

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Child care providers call for provincial funding program improvements

Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Prince Edward Island all have wage grids for ECEs.

The report compared the effective wage for ECEs in all provinces and territories to the average wage for all workers across the economy of each jurisdiction, and found those with wage grids were the closest to reaching parity between ECEs and the average wage for everyone else.

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Gregson said the July report is meant to draw attention to B.C.’s wage grid promise. It recommends a wage grid of between $30 and $40 per hour in B.C. in order to achieve its recruitment and retention goals.

A labour market survey by Early Childhood Educators of BC found that 45 per cent of child care programs reported losing more staff than they could hire due to inadequate wages, benefits and working conditions.

Click to play video: 'B.C. daycares struggle with severe staffing shortages'
B.C. daycares struggle with severe staffing shortages

B.C.’s commitment to a wage grid came as part of its 2021 Canada-Wide Early Leaning and Child Care Agreement with the federal government. That agreement also outlined both governments’ goal to have full implementation of $10-a-day regulated child care spaces by the end of 2026.

“Work to deliver on this commitment is underway, including establishing a timeline for (wage grid) implementation,” Lore wrote in the statement.

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“In the meantime, we are providing a $4-per-hour wage enhancement to more than 15,000 ECEs, helping bring the median wage to $26 per hour. We anticipate being able to share more information later this year.”

Since 2018, the Ministry of Education and Child Care said it has provided more than $24 million in bursaries to almost 6,500 ECE students across the province, created 1,713 new student spaces in post-secondary ECE programs, and plans to add 1,300 more. It is also prioritizing international ECEs for immigration, it added.

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Renuka Bhardwaj, co-ordinator of the preschool program at Collingwood Neighbourhood House in Vancouver, said her program is constantly struggling with a shortage of ECEs. The qualified professionals are retiring or leaving fast than she can hire, she added, with cost of living and low wages playing a big role.

“We just cannot keep them here because the money’s not enough,” she explained. “Quite a few centres, we have postings out for months … it’s just so hard to find the replacement because the wages are so low.”

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Bhardwaj said the program is relying on casuals rather than full-time employees, which is “not a long-term solution.”

The provincial government is currently expanding its $10-a-day child care program, adding about 50 centres and 2,400 spaces to the initiative throughout the province in 2023. By the end of the year, it hopes 15,000 spaces will be available at that rate.

Bhardwaj said that’s not “realistic” without sufficient staffing.

“Yes you can promise more spaces, but first you need to address that we need staffing for those places.”

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