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Child-care workers march on Education Department for better compensation

Marchers hoped to speak with Education Minister Becky Druhan, but she didn't show

4 min read
A woman wearing a sign that says "all ECEs deserve a living wage" walks down Brunswick street in Halifax.
caption Early childhood educators rallied and marched down Brunswick Street in Halifax on Wednesday, advocating for fairer wages and benefits.
Angela Capobianco

Early childhood educators marched on Wednesday morning to advocate for living wages, retroactive pay, and more incentives to retain staff.

The rally saw roughly 50 educators for children between 18 months to 12 years march from Halifax’s Parade Square to the Department of Education. They wanted to speak to Becky Druhan, the provincial minister of education and early childhood development.

This came two days after Druhan announced more fee reductions for child care and the day before the deadline for child-care operators to apply for retroactive pay for their workers.

“It’s unsatisfactory. What we had wanted was for the level ones to start at a living wage and then move up from there. And what happened is they gave the level ones $19.10, which was the wage floor in 2015. And people making $19 an hour? That’s not a living wage,” organizer Heather Cameron said at Grand Parade before the rally.

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Cameron organized a similar rally in September before the pay scale for ECEs was released. She said that rally was in response to the provincial government’s slow release of the new pay scale.

Wednesday was different.

Cameron said the new pay scale is disappointing and doesn’t encourage people to stay in the field. She has worked as an ECE for 27 years and said she has “seen so many people come and go and come and go because they just can’t live on what they’re making.”

A woman holding a sign that says "No ECEs left behind!"
caption Shauna MacMullin, an early childhood educator and one of the organizers of Wednesday’s  rally, says she’s frustrated by the lack of information from the government on benefits being made available to her profession.
Angela Capobianco

Wednesday’s rally was part of a national effort by ECEs to advocate for better work conditions and compensation. ECEs in Halifax rallied to have their wages start at the living wage for their respective regions.

In Halifax, that is $23.50 an hour, according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. They also want retroactive pay to go back to January 2022 instead of July, the time when the government reduced child-care fees. They also want the provincial government to do more to retain staff, particularly by increasing compensation.

Shauna MacMullin, an ECE for two and a half years, said the government plan was leaving child-care centres behind because they haven’t been told what they will be getting in return for signing the child-care agreement with the federal government.

“They haven’t told us the whole package. And we don’t know what we’re getting for our fees. We don’t know what we’re getting for benefits,” she added.

According to a news release in October, retirement benefits and benefit plans are still in the works for ECEs, with the hopes that the project will be implemented in 2023.

Marchers filled the Department of Education entryway on Brunswick Street, calling for Druhan to talk to them. Shortly after arriving, building security told organizer Julianna Harnish that Druhan was not at the education department. Security locked the doors as Harnish called for participants to help find Druhan and force themselves into the building.

A woman in a red coat holding a megaphone.
caption Organizer Julianna Harnish promised as she left the Education Department on Wednesday that ECEs would return monthly until Druhan meets with them.
Angela Capobianco

A police officer removed marchers from the entrance and dispersed the crowd.

The Signal asked Druhan for an interview, but a spokesperson for the education department, Barbara MacLean, responded in an email. MacLean acknowledged that ECEs are very important to children’s development and said that the government’s investments in the industry are “decades overdue.”

“More is coming for ECEs in 2023, including health and retirement benefits. And for the first time ever, ECEs will receive regular wage increases like those in the public sector,” MacLean said. “We are committed to continuing to work alongside ECEs and keep them at the core of our transformative work.”

NDP MLA Suzy Hansen for Halifax-Needham attended the rally. She said she was heartbroken by the result of the protest.

“You know we shouldn’t be doing this again, three, not even three months later, we were here in September before the announcement was rolled out. And now we’re here … it’s not enough,” she said in an interview following the rally.

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About the author

Angela Capobianco

Angela Capobianco (she/her) is a Halifax-born journalist. She has a Master's degree in history from Queen's University and hopes to use her skills...

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