ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary Education

ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary EducationLead advisor on early childhood care and education 
National membership 

Publisher of the New Zealand-International Research in Early Childhood Journal


Staff Pay and Workforce Retention: Results from the 2020 Early Childhood Education National Survey - Q2: Are staff paid for all their time spent working?

Article Index


Across all ECE services, staff worked an average of four hours a week without pay. 

Reports ranged from being paid for all their time spent working to working unpaid for up to an additional 30 hours on average per week (average 4 hours, median 3 hours).

Why is this practice happening?  Here are some quotes that help to explain why:

  • “A weekly staff meeting is 1h 30m which is not paid, but expected to be attended.”
  • “Unpaid for opening and closing centre, 15 mins before or after children arrive/leave each day. I was told that is normal accepted practice.”
  • “The number of children I have on my caseload (20) is the number of hours per week that I am paid. New sign-ups in our home-based service generally work out to be extra (unpaid) hours.”
  • “I am a manager and I need to shelter the teachers from the ever growing work load. Also, our centre is open from 7:30am to 6pm so the weekends when the children are not there is the only time when the environment can be altered e.g. furniture moved, repaired, etc.”
  • “Staying to finish being with an injured or sick child, finishing requirements of my role for the day, catching up on learning stories/planning, talking with parents at pick up time, etc.”
  • “Because parents are late picking up children and we have to stay in ratio. We also can’t leave until the room is set up for the next day.”
  • “Large documentation expectations and not enough release time due to no cover (lack of staff).”
  • “No money to pay for admin staff or extra teachers, so I do extra hours.”
  • “Otherwise I will get behind, or jobs not done will have a flow on effect and get more unmanageable.”
  • “If we don’t keep up with the work, we will be put on performance review.”

Two problems specific to home-based ECE were being on-call and that work demands occurred outside of normal hours. Here are some examples of what home-based staff said on these matters:

  • “I am on call from 6am - 8pm so am obliged to always answer the phone and emails even for the hours that I am not being paid.”
  • “Phoning to catch up with families after they have finished work for the day.”
  • “Taking phone calls from families and au pairs after work hours.”

In kindergarten services, should a teacher not be needed at work, a benefit of being salaried (as per the KTCA) was as one teacher said: “we even get to go home early sometimes” on pay. However, this was not the case for all kindergarten teachers – it was mainly, but not exclusively, head teachers who worked in excess of salaried hours, in order to complete the work required of them.  

In cases where ECE teaching staff were paid for all hours worked, this was largely due to staff ability to say no to working outside of their paid hours, because of employer support, and because of good conditions of work (such as ample non-contact time). Here are a small number of examples of what was said regarding this: 

  • “As a rule, I don't. This took me a long time to discipline myself into doing. I feel that as a teacher our passion is held to ransom for us to feel compelled to complete work from home.”
  • “I refuse to do extra work at home because our time is not valued. On many occasions the centre has shut early (different reasons) and we are not paid for those hours. My paper work is very behind, but if I can't get it done in my two hours non-contact then it is not done.”
  • “I refuse to do any more than the hours I’m paid for as I am studying and have my own children to look after.”
  • “I won't. I'm worth more than being walked on.”
  • “I refuse to work unpaid. My current boss is the first that supports this idea.”
  • “In this centre our baby room has 10 infants and four teachers so I don’t need to. At my previous centre with not enough staff I was writing ten learning stories at home because we had no cover for non-contact time.”

Four hours a week of unpaid work on average per person, is a significant amount. It seems to be a common expectation in the sector that staff will spend hours of their own time doing work that is essential or required for the service. But it is illegal for an employer not to pay their employees for hours worked when it is necessary for them to work these hours in order to do their job.

When employees are not paid for all hours worked, this brings their effective or real earnings down. In reality, some staff could be earning less than the minimum adult wage and others below the Ministry of Education’s attestation rate when all their hours of work are taken into account. Future pay surveys need to investigate this issue in more depth.

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