Yukon government boosts daycare wages

Yukon daycare workers are getting a pay raise from the government — the second such wage boost in the past three months.

Yukon daycare workers are getting a pay raise from the government — the second such wage boost in the past three months.

The increase, announced last week, should provide daycare workers $1 to $4 per hour more than they made in January.

The raises are tied to a worker’s certification level.

But there’s no guarantee that child-care workers will see all the new money.

Although the subsidy is intended to increase wages, there’s nothing to prevent a child-care operation from lowering the portion of wages it pays employees, said Social Services spokesperson Pat Living.

“We’re giving it to them for wages,” she said. “It’s up to them how they roll it out.”

This dismays Cyndi Desharnais, president of the Yukon Child Care Association.

Workers should be guaranteed the money, she said.

“We’re asking for 100 per cent accountability,” she said.

The wage increases have been made in small steps, with a similar increase made in July.

The extra money helps, said Desharnais.

But daycares will struggle to recruit and retain workers until their wages become competitive with other fields, she said.

“We’re saying, thank you very much, but it’s not enough,” she said.

The biggest gains go to level-three child-care workers, who have spent two years in school to earn their credentials.

These workers should see a $2 per hour pay increase over current wages. A similar $2 increase was given in July.

The typical wage of a class-three worker ranges from $18 to $21 per hour, said Desharnais.

Level-two workers should see wages rise by $2.15 per hour since the start of 2008. These workers typically earn $12 and $13 per hour.

And level-one workers, who typically earn about $12 an hour, should receive an additional 85¢ per hour since the start of 2008.

These entry level jobs require an RCMP background check and a First Aid course. These requirements cost about $200.

Some workers decide to save themselves the hassle, instead choosing to earn more money pumping gas or selling goods for Canadian Tire or Wal-Mart, said Desharnais.

Such stores are often able to give benefits out of reach to daycares, she said.

In recent years, the operations have also received more operating money from the government, yet some centres are still unable to find enough money to paint the walls, said Desharnais.

However, the situation for Yukon daycares has improved over the past several years, said Clayton Keats, director of the Church of Nazarene Daycare.

Then, daycares worried about being forced to close.

The new money, he said, “is helping to keep everyone afloat.”

“It’s still not a lot,” he added.

“As good as wages are, they’re nowhere near what they should be.”

Demand for daycare is weird and erratic in the Yukon. Some facilities have long wait lists. Others, such as Keats’, are only half full.

He has space for 54 children. Only 34 children are enrolled.

He suspects the lagging demand has much to do with location. His business is in Porter Creek.

Many parents want to drop their children off downtown, on the way to work, he said.

Meanwhile, the demographics of Porter Creek appear to be tilting against him. He doesn’t see as many families with young children in the neighbourhood as he used to.

Instead, older families are the norm.

Despite being “barely able” to pay all expenses, Keats plans to pass all of the wage subsidy along to his employees.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The government now pays $1.6 million annually to offset the wages of child-care workers. That’s an increase of more than 100 per cent over the $768,500 paid in the beginning of 2008.

The increases are part of the Yukon government’s plan, introduced in 2007, to double the money it spends on child care, from $5 million to a proposed $10.3 million in 2012.

But only a portion of that money goes towards child-care workers — some also goes towards subsidizing the cost of child care for low-income families.

Parents typically pay between $625 to $800 per month to send an infant to child care, said Desharnais, while the cost of enrolling a toddler ranges from $565 to $675 and a preschooler’s cost ranges from $525 to $675.

The true cost per child, excluding subsidies, is closer to $1,100, said Keats.

The financial boost to daycare is welcome, if slow to come, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

Much of the money announced last week had already been announced at an earlier date, he said.

“That seems to be a favourite tactic of this government. They announce something, and then, after many months, they announce they have finally completed doing it, and then they actually announce it has gone into effect,” said Mitchell.

“You certainly get three bangs for one buck.”

He’s also concerned that not all the new money will end up in the pockets of daycare workers.

It may be time to consider child-care workers as worth paying in line with other educators, he said.

After all, we entrust both with our children.

Child-care workers receive considerably less money, for caring for children while they are more vulnerable, he said.

“I think that fundamentally, over time, we’re going to need a strategy to address that.”

Desharnais agrees. She recalls seeing a newspaper ad recently. It was a job opening for an animal control officer.

The pay was “significantly” more than most daycare jobs, she said.

“Where are our priorities?” she asked.