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Child care workers are at the bottom of the hierarchy of respect. Despite the plethora of studies to emerge in the last decade regarding the extreme importance of these early years and of the work, Canadian society continues to pay lip service only to the value of the work - Working conditions and pay levels remain at very low levels. Child care has been seen as “women’s work”, as has been undervalued across Canada.

You Bet I Care! 1 is a report of a 1998 survey on wages and working conditions of teaching staff and directors in child care centres. The study replicates the 1991 study “Caring for a Living” and the survey, where data is available, compares 1998 data to that collected in 1991. Here are the main findings on working conditions and wages:

Staff Profiles

  • Over 98% of the staff were female
  • About 91% said they worked over 30 hours per week.
  • Across Canada 44.5% of staff were under age 30
  • Almost 30% had a child or children living at their home who was under age 12
  • 60% had been in the field over 5 years
  • 71% of teaching staff in 1998 held a 1, 2 or 3 year ECCE credential (a significant increase over the 58% reported in 1991)
  • 11% of all teaching staff had no specific training relating to early childhood care and education


Child care wages are extremely low. Nationally, the survey showed the hourly rate was $11.62 for a teacher and only $9.59 for an assistant.

The union advantage is significant for child care workers–teachers in unionized centers made 30% more than non-unionised workers. The average union rate was about $14.24 hourly compared to the non-union rate of only $10.92. However, union density is very low–only 16% in the study belonged to a union.

On an annual basis a wage for a full-time teacher in a child care center was $22,716. The study compares this to parking lot attendants who earned an annual salary, nationally, of $21,038 in 1996.

In 1998, as in 1991, salary levels for some teaching staff positions in the Maritimes and Atlantic provinces were well below Statistics Canada low-income cut-off (poverty line) levels.

Nearly one-fifth of full time child care teachers hold other jobs and 80% do this to supplement their income. They do this for an average of 6.7 hours a week on a year round basis. In both 1991 and 1998 both child care teachers and directors said that a better salary was the most important thing needed to make child care a more satisfying work environment.


Low wages can be offset by decent benefits that provide some measure of longer term security but benefits for child care workers need improvements. Only 10% of not-for-profit centre budgets are allocated for benefits (only 6% for commercial center budgets). Among full-time teachers:

  • 74% have paid sick days (averaging 7.6 days per year)
  • 58% have extended health care
  • 57% have a dental plan
  • 48% have long term disability insurance
  • 25% have a pension plan.


The majority of teaching staff are women in their childbearing years. Approximately two thirds of centres provide unpaid job protected maternity leave. But only 6% of assistant teachers and 16% of teachers have an UI top-up for maternity leave

Two thirds of teachers have a paid coffee break but only 37% have a paid lunch break. About 50% of teaching staff have paid preparation time. About two thirds of teaching staff have access to a room set aside for staff use only.


Hours of Work:

The study showed that 91% of teaching staff worked over 30 hours a week but almost 1/3 of the staff work on a substitute, casual, or time-limited contract work. Most of these workers do not receive any benefits.

Unpaid Work:

Unpaid work is another serious problem in child care. The study shows on average teachers and assistant teachers work 4.6 hours unpaid overtime a week. Only 7% of workers in other sectors work 5 or more unpaid hours a week.


Worker were asked a series of questions about their feelings about their work. The answers indicate that stress is a major concern for child care workers. Almost 55% felt there was too little time to complete their work. Forty-eight per cent of respondents said they felt physically exhausted at the end of the day, and 29% felt emotionally drained.


Staff turnover is a serious problem in child care centres. Nationally in 1998, 22% of teaching staff had left their jobs in the previous year. However, rates varied—in Alberta turnover was almost 45%, in PEI it was15%, and Ontario and Quebec had turnover of about 17%. The national rate for leaving voluntarily for all staff was 38%. Voluntary turnover rates in commercial centers 45% compared to 35% for not-for-profit centers.

Higher turnover rates are associated with lower wages as shown by this table

Turnover rates and hourly wages for child care teachers

Job Rate Turnover
Less than $10.5040%
$10.50 to $13.9922.7%
$14.00 and more19.9%

Of the voluntary terminations, 66% reported accepting another job as the reason for leaving. Of these, 39% accepted jobs at another child care centre.

The proportion of teaching staff who said they would not choose child care as a career again almost doubled from 16% in 1991 to 35% in 1998. However, only 22% said they didn’t expect to be in the filed in three years.

Stress was also a significant factor in turnover. Sixteen per cent of respondents leaving voluntarily said they left their jobs because they found their jobs too stressful.


Ninety five percent of teaching staff said that they made a positive difference in children’s lives. As well, approximately 84% said that the job made good use of their skills, was stimulating and challenging and gave them a sense of accomplishment. However, a substantial proportion of teaching staff said that there was not enough time to do what must be done, and that at the end of the day they were physically or emotionally exhausted.

Over 90% of teaching staff and directors said that the nature of the work (i.e. love from children, a varied and stimulating job, and a people-oriented job) were very positive aspects of child care as a career. However, poor pay and promotion opportunities and lack of respect were frequently cited as negative aspects.

Despite being aware of their contribution, child care workers feel others do not respect their work. In 1991, 42% of staff said they believed professionals in other fields respected their work. This dropped sharply to 20% in 1998. In 1991, an already low percentage of 16% of child care workers believed that the public at large respected their work. In 1998 this had dropped to 8%.

The most cited negative aspects of child care were low wages (76%), Lack of respect (46%), and working conditions (32%)

Workers identified a list of recommendations that would make their work more satisfying. Higher wages top the list at 91%. Promoting more respect for child care workers was the second most cited recommendation at 89%. In September You Bet I Care! 2 was released, a study of quality in child care centres. One of the major findings of that study was the link between wages and quality of service.

CUPE Equality Branch

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