On Thursday, dozens of early childhood educators (ECEs) took time off work to rally for a living wage in downtown Halifax. They’re tired of waiting for the pay raise and benefits promised to them more than a year ago, under the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement signed in July 2021. The province announced an improved compensation package for ECEs in January, and in April, it said the pay hike would be coming this fall.
“We can’t wait any longer,” says Bobbi Keating in an interview with The Coast at the Grand Parade rally. She’s the director of the Peter Green Hall Children’s Centre in Halifax, and has been an ECE for 33 years. Keating says ECEs are in an economic crisis, which the Early Learning and Child Care Agreement is supposed to help. “People are losing their homes. They can't pay rent. They can't afford cars. They can't afford food. So knowing the money is there, knowing they're withholding it on purpose for some reason, we need it to live.”
Based on the current wage floor, ECEs in Nova Scotia make between $15 and $19 an hour, well below the living wage in every region. The $19 level requires a bachelor degree.
“I have a staff member who's been at the centre for 28 years, and for years she was embarrassed to tell people what she made. And then finally she realized she shouldn't be embarrassed. The government should be embarrassed. The shame is on them,” Keating says.
The day before the rally, provincial minister of education and early childhood development Becky Druhan told CBC’s Information Morning the money is coming, and a protest wouldn’t be necessary. “Higher wages are coming this fall, a walkout just weeks before our target is not going to speed that timeline up,” she said.
Druhan said the rollout has taken so long because childcare is an “ununified” sector with 330 centres across the province and a “patchwork” of grants and fees. She did not give an exact date for the raise, or say whether the new pay would reflect the living wage. Druhan was at Thursday’s rally and told ECEs the same thing: that the new compensation is a “top priority” and “we’re going deliver it as soon as we can.”
“I'm really insulted when I hear people say, ‘don't worry, it's coming. Why are you going to protests, you're not going to get it any faster, just wait.’ Waiting just one minute more is too late,” Keating says. “The infrastructure exists to do a pay scale and a compensation and benefit package. They just did it for pre-primaries a couple of years ago. Do it for us. Just get it done.”
MacDonald, a nurse and mother of five, who requested to be referred to only by her last name, attended the rally. “It's important that they know that the families are behind them,” she says. “Without ECEs, I can’t help the healthcare system.
“I wouldn’t trust anybody else to take care of my children,” MacDonald says. “How can we expect them to take care of our children if they can’t live for themselves? If they can’t earn a living wage?”
The group marched from Grand Parade to the Department of Education building on Brunswick Street, chanting “Fall is too late, ECEs can’t wait” and “Druhan says ‘delay’, we say ‘no way.’”
“We're just fighting for what is fair,” Keating says, “right?”