Early childhood educators at licensed daycares will see a wage increase starting April 1.
Early Learning Minister Jordan Brown announced March 18 that the province’s early childhood educators will see an increase of $1 per hour for uncertified staff, a $2 per hour increase for those with level one or two designation and a $3 per hour increase for centre directors or those with level three designation.
Autism tutors and special needs assistants will also receive an increase of $1 per hour.
The increases came after a public campaign launched by the Early Childhood Development Association (ECDA) of P.E.I. and the Association des Centres de la Petite Enfance Francophones de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (ACPEFIPE) which called for an increase in pay rates.
Both organizations say the Island has been losing trained early childhood educators due to wage rates far below that of educational assistants in the school system.
"There is a significant and pressing concern about early childhood educator wages," Brown said Monday morning.
"Our early childhood educators and our children deserve to be supported."
The wage increases will only apply to licensed, designated childcare centres. These centres abide by a wage grid set by the province. The wage scale ranges from $12.48 to $17.56 per hour depending on the education of staff; the average wage rate is around $15.60 per hour.
Non-designated, licensed private childcare centres are not required to abide by these wage rates. For these centres, the province will also be providing a subsidy to offset the cost of staffing. Each of these centres will receive two payments – one on March 31, 2019, and one on January 1, 2020 – for each staff member in order to incentivize operators to increase staff wages.
These centres will receive payments of $1,500 for each certified child care staff member and $750 for each uncertified staff member. The payments will be made through the Quality Enhancement Grant, one of several grants the province uses to fund childcare spaces on P.E.I.
"There was a lot of concern around wages and a lot of concern around wage disparity. We were seeing people leaving the field at a fairly fast rate to educational assistants’ positions."
Sonya Hooper, executive director of the ECDA, said that, prior to this announcement, early childhood educators had received only a four per cent wage increase over the last 10 years.
By contrast, educational assistants in the public school system are paid as much as $7 an hour more than early childhood educators.
"There was a lot of concern around wages and a lot of concern around wage disparity,” Hooper said. “We were seeing people leaving the field at a fairly fast rate to educational assistants’ positions."
Hooper said Monday’s announcement closed the gap between the wage rates of educational assistants and early childhood educators.
“I think that this is a step in the right direction, for sure. It closes the gap by half,” said Hooper.
Hooper also said she would like to see the province develop a long-term plan for early childhood educators. The ECDA has called for a five-year plan for wage increases, as well as a workforce plan that would identify the number of childcare staff needed in P.E.I.
Brown said the total funding commitment for the wage increases and the additions to the Quality Enhancement Grant would amount to $2.8 million.
The province has also commissioned a study of P.E.I.’s early childhood sector. The study is due to be completed this month.
Green Party MLA Hannah Bell said the wage increases were a positive sign but said they fell short of what was necessary.
“The reality is that they’ve provided no vision for the future,” Bell said.
“Government needs to articulate a clear and tangible commitment to increasing ECE wages beyond a small increase in an election year.”
Progressive Conservative MLA Sidney MacEwen said he has been urging the province to regularly increase ECE wages yearly rather than implementing large, one-time increases. Still, he said, Monday's announcement was welcome news.
"I'm really, really happy for the association and for the early childhood educators. They've been lobbying for this for some time," MacEwen said.
"Is it enough? No. It's never enough, but we have to start somewhere."