Edmonton

Fort McMurray child-care workers protest loss of northern living allowance

Protesters sang and rang bells outside MLA Tany Yao’s office on Tuesday in an attempt to bring attention to the loss of the northern living allowance for child-care workers in Alberta.

Without the allowance, many early childhood educators say they would be forced to quit

Many of the protesters brought their children with them. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Protesters sang and rang bells outside MLA Tany Yao's office on Tuesday to bring attention to the loss of the northern living allowance for child-care workers. 

The cut, included in the Alberta budget tabled last month, will cost some workers almost $1,000 a month, protesters say. 

"It would be one-third of my pay," said Brittany Irvine, an early childhood educator. "It would actually mean that I'm no longer able to work in the field because my pay would be less than my child-care fees for my two children."

Dozens of people showed up to the protest, most of them child-care workers. Many said they would face similar problems. 

"We're going to lose quite a few qualified early childhood educators if something doesn't change," said Irvine.

Hope Moffatt leads the protesters in singing 'The More We Get Together.' (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Some protesters said the cut could cause staff shortages and some daycares may not be able to stay open. 

Cassandra Penney, an early childhood educator, helped organize the protest. She said the point was to highlight the possible ramifications, so at least two daycares closed their doors for the day. 

"I would like for him [Yao] to reinstate that living allowance," said Penney, who had her two children with her. "That means the difference between me being able to stay in the field and having to quit."

Lauren Armstrong, press secretary for the minister of children's services, said in an email the northern allowance for childcare workers was adopted in 2007 to deal with "a heated economy and extremely high labour demand."

"There is no need to subsidize" wages any longer, she said, because the cost of living in Fort McMurray is now in line with costs across the province.

People gathered outside MLA Tany Yao's office to protest budget cuts. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

The provincial government will still provide wage top-ups for certified childcare workers in Fort McMurray. Those can range from $2.14 per hour to $6.62 per hour, based on the employee's certification. 

The cuts to the northern allowance will save the provincial government $4 million a year. 

Teachers also receive a northern allowance under a separate program that was not affected by the cut. 

"I don't think that's fair," said Aileen Samaco, a child-care worker and mother who would be forced to quit if she lost the northern allowance. 

There were a few dozen people at the protest in Fort McMurray. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

"What's the difference with the teachers? We are teachers too. We are teaching kids one to five years old." 

The protesters also want the government to retain the accreditation system, which the province has said will end on April 1.

"Eliminating accreditation lets child care providers spend more time with kids and families," Rebecca Schulz, minister of children's services, said in a written statement on the government of Alberta website.

Accreditation was introduced in 2004 as a way to promote "excellence in childcare settings," according to the website. 

Irvine said accreditation helps ensure a higher quality of care for kids. 

Yao did not provide a comment, but did Tweet a photo of himself sitting down to talk with protesters.

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