The province has announced a new wage scale for early childhood educators (ECEs) in Nova Scotia, but some ECEs say the increases are still below the living wage they wanted.
Under a new wage scale, announced Tuesday, the province says most of the 2,600 ECEs working in regulated child care centres will see a wage increase in the range of 30%. Those wages will be retroactive to Jul. 4, 2022. The wage hikes will be between 14% and 43% from the current wage floor, depending on classification level and experience of the ECE.
The new wage structure starts in November and the retroactive pay will be paid to ECEs in mid-December. Nova Scotia Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Becky Druhan made the announcement at the NSCC’s Akerley campus.
“This wage increase will help grow the early childhood education workforce and attract new students to the career,” Druhan said at Tuesday’s announcement. “It will help operators attract and retain staff. It is also a tangible reflection of the importance of ECEs to children, families, communities, and our Nova Scotian economy.”
The money for the wage increases will flow through employers and the new wage scale is tied to future raises received by the public service. The cost for the new wage scale is about $100 million a year and will be cost-shared through the Canada–Nova Scotia Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement. The province now spends about $25 million a year in wages to child care operators.
Bobbi Keating, a director at a child care centre in Halifax, said she’s “disappointed” with the new wage scale. Keating, who’s worked as an ECE for more than 30 years, spoke at a rally in September where ECEs were demanding a living wage. Many of the wage increases for ECEs in levels 1, 2, and 3 announced on Tuesday are still under the current living wage of $23.50, according to the latest report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“We’re all very disappointed, and still trying to process everything,” Keating said. “Obviously, there is still a lot of information and questions we have to get answered.”
“This is a starting point for all new hires, but if we’re understanding this correctly, a level 3 ECE that is making $19/hour now, is only going to be up to $24/hour in five years.”
Keating also wanted to know why the new wages were only retroactive to Jul. 4. Keating said there have been numerous questionnaires and surveys that have gone out and ECEs have said the wage increases should be retroactive to Jan. 1.
“That’s a slap in the face,” she said. “The ECEs have been waiting all year long. It should be retroactive to Jan. 1, just like the parent fee reduction was.”
Keating said she and other ECEs are also disappointed a benefits and retirement package wasn’t developed and made available now.
“So now, we have to wait for benefits,” Keating said. “And you’ll still have ECEs that are ready for retirement in the next five years who will be in poverty. No pension.”
Reporters at Tuesday’s announcement asked about the delay in the benefits and retirement package. Druhan said some of the centres in the province offers benefits now, calling is a “patchwork quilt” of benefits across the province.
“We heard very clearly that ECEs in the sector wanted to make sure we moved ahead with wages as quickly as possible and didn’t want the work on benefits to hold it up, so that’s why we went ahead and did wages now,” Druhan said. “We’re making the wage increase now and the ECEs will see money in their pockets soon, and the work on the benefits will follow.”
YWCA sent out a press release sent out shortly after Tuesday’s announcement saying while the wage increases were a “first good step,” some of the new wage levels still aren’t a living wage.
“The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has listed the living wage for Halifax as $23/hour in 2022,” the release read. “It is disappointing that none of the ECE Levels are at this rate and only by 2026 will Level 2s and 3s reach this threshold.”
At Tuesday’s announcement, Druhan said “this work is decades overdue.”
“This was a commitment that was made in the Canada-wide child care agreement to be implemented by the end of this year, but this was something we knew we had to move on earlier than that,” Druhan said. “We prioritized it to move it ahead as quickly as we possibly could, which is why we’re able to do the announcement now, which is why we’re making the wage increases retroactive to Jul. 4. But it’s complicated work. We have over 300 individual centres, and that means over 300 potential compensation regimes. It was important we got it right.”
Keating said she would take part in some of the sector chats happening the next few days to learn more about the wage increases. She said she’s also looking forward to reading the information packages that will be sent out to the executive directors.
“Hopefully, there will be more information in those,” Keating said. “What troubles me is that I didn’t hear anything where they’re going to acknowledge the experience of ECEs. And most of the ECEs still here are the ones who have years and years of experience.”