Longer holidays and cash bonuses are being offered to childcare workers as desperate daycare operators battle staff shortages across nearly 900 centres.

Australian Childcare Alliance president Paul Mondo said centres were struggling to find 5000 qualified staff, despite high unemployment during the COVID-19 recession.

He said Australia's border lockdown had blocked the arrival of migrant workers, who often work in childcare.

And some older staff had retired early, for fear of catching COVID-19.

Mr Mondo called on retrenched workers, including flight attendants, to retrain as childcare educators.

"Teachers are in high demand,'' Mr Mondo told News Corp Australia.

"We have 8000 long daycare services in Australia and many of them are looking for staff.''

Staff shortages are so severe that one in every nine long daycare centres across Australia has been given a government "service waiver'' to care for children without the required number of staff.

The Scholars Group managing director Jae Fraser said he was recruiting for 20 positions in his 21 centres in Queensland and NSW.

"We are currently trying to recruit eight early childhood teachers, seven diploma educators and various other roles including Cert III (certificate qualifications in childcare), administration, bus drivers and cooks,'' Mr Fraser said.

"We're essentially asking people, 'What do you want?'''

He said he was offering four-year qualified early childhood teachers higher wages of up to $84,000, up to eight weeks' holiday instead of four, with professional development, and free or discounted childcare.

"We're trying to match packages teachers get in the school system.

"When a teacher stays with us for 12 months I pay a loyalty bonus of $1000 to $5000 just so I don't lose them to schools.

"I don't believe that pay is the issue for us - there are simply not enough qualified educators to spread across an ever increasing sector.''

Early childhood teacher Samantha Dougherty with kids Bastien Ward, 2, and Xavier Batty, 2, at Little Scholars, Redland Bay. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
Early childhood teacher Samantha Dougherty with kids Bastien Ward, 2, and Xavier Batty, 2, at Little Scholars, Redland Bay. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

Mr Fraser said schools were poaching early childhood teachers, who have the same university degree as teachers in primary schools.

The award wage for early childhood teachers ranges from $54,000 and $75,000 in daycare centres, with four weeks' holidays, depending on experience.

The same teachers could earn between $70,000 and $100,000 in schools, with up to 12 weeks' holidays.

The Australian Children's Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) has granted waivers to nearly 900 long daycare centres.

South Australia and the Northern Territory are the hardest hit, with one in five short-staffed centres granted a waiver, compared to one in nine in NSW and Queensland.

In Victoria, 4.5 per cent of centres have been granted a staffing waiver, with 17 per cent in the ACT, 16 per cent in Western Australia and nearly 14 per cent in Tasmania.

Daycare worker Samantha Dougherty, 27, has been working in childcare for a decade and is studying part-time at university to become an early childhood teacher.

"I enjoy working in childcare because you get to spend time with them just being kids,'' she said yesterday.

"They're so inquisitive and curious - they want to know how, why, when, they want to know everything.''

Goodstart Early Learning, the nation's biggest childcare chain, has more than 800 vacancies for permanent carers, centre leaders and early childhood teachers in its 670 centres.

A spokeswoman said Goodstart paid its 15,000 staff above award wages.

"During the peak of the pandemic, the majority of families kept their children at home and this forced many casual and part-time workers onto Jobseeker (unemployment benefits) or into other sectors,'' she said.

"Today those families are returning right across the nation but many of the casual and part-time staff have not.''

The spokeswoman said Goodstart was working with universities and other training organisations to increase the number of students in childcare and teaching courses.



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