Pensions and toddlers don’t often go together. They do now in Manitoba. Last week, the NDP government announced it will provide a pension plan for all daycare staff in the province. An estimated 7,000 workers will qualify, including those who offer child care out of their home. It’s proving a controversial move.
The new $6.6-million-a-year policy creates a defined-contribution pension plan for staff working at privately run non-profit child care centres. Payments will be made to retroactively recognize up to 10 years service. For home-based daycares, the government will contribute up to $1,700 a year to the owner’s RRSP. All this is in addition to increases in provincial wage subsidies over the past decade that have pushed starting salaries for daycare workers in the province to $32,000.
“It’s starting to look like a real career,” says Martha Friendly, co-ordinator of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit at the University of Toronto and a frequent commentator on national daycare policy. While Manitoba’s moves mirror policies already in existence in Quebec, Friendly sees a hopeful trend toward better daycare compensation that will improve staff retention at daycare centres and lead to better care for children.
Not everyone is convinced a taxpayer-funded pension for workers outside the public sector is a good idea. Or affordable. Colin Craig, Prairie director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, sees the issue from the perspective of Manitoba’s $500-million deficit. “There’s nothing special about daycare workers,” Craig says. “It seems bizarre that the province would be borrowing money to pay for their pensions.” As for the precedent this sets, Craig asks: “What about pensions for convenience store workers? Why are we ignoring them?”