Report shows ‘a perfect storm’ is brewing as Ontario falls further behind on wages in child care sector
(Aditya Romansa/Unsplash)

Report shows ‘a perfect storm’ is brewing as Ontario falls further behind on wages in child care sector

Ontario’s ability to retain workers in the child care sector is worsening, according to a recent report from an advocacy group that is calling on the Province for immediate action to improve pay for workers. Wages have dropped far below a livable level, resulting in a child care workforce crisis the group warns is “blunting the effectiveness of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care program — limiting enrolment, impacting quality and making programs unstable.” 

The report, commissioned by the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare — the province’s central advocacy group for a universal early childhood education and care system — reveals Ontario has fallen behind most other provinces on wages in the child care sector, with Ontario being one of only four provinces that still has not introduced a salary scale or wage grid as part of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) plan — a five-year strategy initiated and funded by the federal government to reduce the cost of child care to an average of $10 per day by 2026. It also condemned the Province’s $19 per hour wage floor — the lowest wage a worker in this sector can receive — for Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECE). It is the third lowest in the country at $4 less than Alberta, $8 less than Prince Edward Island, and $13 less than Yukon — and there is no wage floor for non-RECE staff beyond the provincial minimum wage.

It is a key contributor to the challenges the sector is currently seeing with staff retention.

The report references data from the College of Early Childhood Educators (CECE) which shows that twice as many RECEs working in licensed child care resign their membership after three years compared to those working in the public education system or other settings. This revelation comes as the Ministry of Education’s own estimates predict Ontario will require 8,500 additional ECEs and child care workers in order to meet the target for CWELCC space expansion by 2026. It recognizes that “Given the current challenges of retaining and recruiting ECEs and child care workers, and the need to expand the qualified workforce in the coming years, it is clear that the ECE workforce should be a priority policy area for Ontario.”

“Ontario has a child care workforce shortage amid an increased demand for child care spaces,” the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare states. “Currently many child care programs are limiting enrolment because they cannot adequately staff. This workforce crisis is now a major roadblock to the successful implementation of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) plan in Ontario. It is slowing planned space expansion and blocking access to child care for many families.”

“The root cause of the workforce crisis is low and uncompetitive wages,” the report states. “ECEs and child care workers identify compensation and working conditions as the primary issues contributing to their wellbeing, and ultimately, their decision to stay in, or leave, the profession.”

As part of its 2021 budget, the federal government invested $27 billion over five years to build a Canada-wide early learning and child care system with provinces and territories (the CWELCC). Under its agreement with Ontario, from 2021 to 2026, the province’s estimated allocation would total $13.2 billion. The object of the plan was to provide a 50 percent reduction in average parent fees for licensed Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) by the end of 2022, reaching an average of $10 a day by the end of 2026 for licensed child care enrolled in the Canada-wide ELCC system. While the investment signalled a positive shift for many families who saw reduced child care expenses, the lower cost has not changed the fact that hundreds of thousands of families across the country are still waiting for spaces and with a workforce shortage, the demand is only going to continue to persist.

“The expansion of early learning services cannot happen without improvements to working conditions and benefits in a sector that struggles to attract and retain workers. With no staff, all we will be left with are empty buildings,” the Canadian Union of Public Employees stated in a November press release.

To be effective in solving the child care workforce shortage, the Coalition’s report calls for a salary scale of at least $30-$40 per hour for RECEs; at least $25 per hour for non-RECE staff; annual increases and steps to reward years of service; and immediate implementation of benefit and pension plans. If these recommendations are not fulfilled, the report warns “retention challenges will continue and worsen.”

According to the report, in 2022, among RECEs in licensed child care in Ontario, 32 percent earned less than $20 per hour, while 46 percent earned between $20 and $25 an hour and 16 percent earned between $25 and $30 per hour. Among non-RECE staff, 76 percent earned less than $20 per hour and 21 percent earned between $20 and $25 per hour.

An overview of child care sector wages in provinces and territories across the country shows Ontario is one of the lowest.

(Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC) 


While the Coalition recognizes Ontario’s CWELCC action plan raised the wage floor to $19 per hour in 2023 with a planned increase of $1 a year until the end of the agreement — “the first time a wage floor was introduced to child care”— the advocacy group notes the increase “is far too low,” making the effective minimum wage for Ontario’s RECEs the third lowest in the country in 2024. It adds that by 2026 Ontario’s wage floor will still be only $22 per hour, during which time other provinces will have planned wage increases that will continue to leave Ontario behind.  

It highlights that while the Ministry of Education mulls over a new child care workforce strategy—consultations were held in January 2023—the sector is still waiting for the Province’s plan. 

“Meanwhile the child care workforce shortage is causing local child care programs to close rooms and limit enrolment at a time when more parents are hoping to gain access to affordable child care spaces,” the report asserts. 

Ontario’s largest child care operator, the YMCA of the GTA, has reported that, despite long waitlists, they only have 16,000 children enrolled in their 35,000 spaces because of staff shortages. YMCA Ontario, which represents one-fifth of all licensed child care spaces in the province, reported in January 2023 that across their programs they would need 3,000 additional staff to be able to operate at licensed capacity. In September 2023, Niagara Region reported that across the region’s child care programs they are operating at only 64 percent of licensed capacity because of staffing challenges.

“As Ontario looks to expand child care spaces to meet the increased demand for affordable child care, the provincial government must address the workforce crisis,” the report states. 

Data from the College of Early Childhood Educators (CECE) demonstrate that while RECE graduates from post-secondary programs have increased since 2014, enrolment in the profession has declined by 7.2 percent a year. Further indicating the impact of compensation and working conditions on educator retention, the CECE reports twice as many RECEs working in licensed child care resign their membership after three years compared to those working in the public education system or other settings. 

“It’s a perfect storm. The child care workforce crisis has been worsening since the start of the pandemic and now it is meeting increased demand for child care spaces as fees are lowered,” Carolyn Ferns, member of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said in a press release. “The sad part is that this was entirely predictable and preventable if the Ford government had done more to raise ECE and child care worker wages. Everyone the Ministry has consulted with has told them to raise wages, but instead Ontario is falling further and further behind.”

The Coalition stresses the only way the sector can retain ECEs, re-attract those who have left and recruit more skilled educators to the field is through the Province immediately raising wages. 

“For years, RECEs, child care workers and child care advocates have been calling for improved wages and working conditions. RECEs and child care workers identify compensation (wages, benefits, etc.) and working conditions as the primary issues contributing to their wellbeing, and ultimately, their decision to stay in, or leave, the profession.”

According to the Coalition, the research shows that compensation and working conditions have consistently been identified by RECEs as the driving factor for their employment decisions, including decisions to leave the profession.

“As such, it has consistently been our position that the Ontario government must urgently increase wages, address compensation related elements, and improve working conditions,” the report explains. “These improvements must be made with comprehensive, sustainable and predictable funding and as a part of broader system-building elements; they cannot be addressed alone.” 

In the short-term, the Coalition says the Ontario government must immediately implement a salary scale that equitably raises wages to at least $25 per hour for non-RECE staff, and at least $30-40 per hour for RECEs, a salary scale that should be treated as an interim measure and one the advocacy groups says is “crucial that it is done quickly in order to address the acute staffing retention crisis.” However, the group also warns this salary scale is not sufficient for the long term. 


Following advocacy measures from child care groups and the community, the Province was forced to increase the base wage for RECEs.



A month after the report was released, the Province was forced to increase the wage floor for RECEs in the CWELCC system to $23.86 per hour, up from the previous $18 wage floor in 2022. 

“This announcement of wage improvements — midway through Ontario’s CWELCC action plan — is an admission by the government that wages in child care are far too low, and that boosting wages is key to solving the workforce crisis,” Ferns, Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care member, said. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) also denounced the announcement for not going “nearly far enough” and for “not provid[ing] transformational change, adding the “announcement only sharpens the focus on the changes that the sector needs.”

“The increase in the wage floor simply continues the government’s failed approach, one which subsidizes low-wage employers with public funds while doing nothing for programs that have worked to be decent work employers and raise wages over the years,” Ferns said. “If the Ontario government is going to double down on a failed policy, we will double down on our advocacy.” 

The Union also criticized the government's failure to solve this problem by leaving too many workers out, including non-RECE staff, like Early Childhood Assistants and other employees critical to running a child care program. It cautioned while the announcement “is good news for some, it is not a long-term solution.”

CUPE is also holding Bill 124 — which restricted public sector wage increases to one percent for three years — responsible for the current worker shortage in the care sector. The Union asserts “low wages have made it next to impossible for public sector employers — including hospitals, long-term care homes, universities, social service agencies, schools, and child care centres — to recruit and retain staff.” Estimates from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office points to a collective $2.1 billion in wages that has been taken from public sector workers.

“Because of Bill 124, over a million public sector workers – many of them women, many of them racialized, many earning low wages – were robbed of the opportunity to negotiate better wages and working conditions. It violated their rights and caused untold damage to Ontarians’ public services,” CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said in a February press release. 

The Bill, which CUPE says “contributed to understaffing and high levels of burnout among frontline workers,” was ruled unconstitutional in 2022 by Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice and the PC’s promised to repeal the wage-suppressing Bill 124 the day after they lost the appeal. In February, Ontario’s Court of Appeal denied Premier Doug Ford and his PC government’s appeal of the earlier decision to strike down Bill 124 and Ford agreed to repeal the wage-restraint law. The union has also called on the Province “to repair the damage caused by Bill 124,” beginning with dramatically more funding for public services in the upcoming provincial budget, which is set to be unveiled on March 26.

As staffing retention worsens, a February staff report from the Region of Peel revealed the Region received $419.9 million, $31.3 million less than what was projected in the 2024 budget, as part of the CWELCC funding allocations from the Ministry of Education for 2024. The report assured the decreased allocation would have no net impact on the Early Years and Child Care. It explained the discrepancy between the 2024 Regional Budget for EYCCS and the funding allocation from the Province is primarily due to changes in funding assumptions for the CWELCC program. 

“This reduction is the result of the Province holding the current fee reduction for CWELCC eligible programs at 52.75 percent for 2024,” the report stated, adding “Peel's 2024 CWELCC funding allocations are now aligned to the calendar year and do not include funding for January 2025. As a result, Peel’s CWELCC funding is $31.9 million lower than forecasted in the 2024 Regional budget for EYCCS.”

The Province was also providing all Service System Managers — who oversee planning, funding, administration and operation of early years and licensed child care services — with a transitional grant over three years (between 2021 and 2023) “to address the administrative shortfall, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the significant changes to the system introduced by CWELCC.” The grant was intended to help offset the five percent reduction in the administration threshold and provide support for the administration cost share requirement. 

But the report pointed out that in December, the Province discontinued its transitional grant funding “with no prior notice or opportunity for the Region to plan for the impacts of this change” — a reduction that “will create pressures for the Region in 2025 and beyond, negatively impacting the Region’s ability to administer the CWELCC program, child care subsidy, and special needs resourcing supports in a timely manner to families.” For Peel, the reduction will create a funding shortfall of over $4 million beginning in 2025.  

“The negative impact of the reduction in funding is being voiced from other Service System Managers across Ontario,” the report notes. “In total, a reduction of $85.5 million in administration funding will be felt across the province’s 47 Consolidated Municipal Service Managers (CMSMs) and District Social Services Administration Boards.”

The February staff report cautioned the reduction in provincial administration funding comes at a time when the CWELCC program as well as the CWELCC expansion (11,980 additional spaces by 2026) has significantly increased workload and administrative needs for the Region.

The Province said it would allow the Region to carry forward any unused transition grant funding into 2024, to be spent by March 31. The staff report said the Region plans to carry forward $4.5 million in transitional grant funding to offset administrative costs from January to March 2024, adding staff do not foresee any additional pressures on administration funding for 2024. 

Council approved a recommendation requesting the Region forward a letter to the Minister of Education to advocate for the reversal of administrative funding reductions that will result in a budget shortfall in 2025 and beyond, which staff say will negatively impact the delivery of Peel’s Early Years and Child Care programs. The report says staff will actively advocate alongside other Service System Managers through OMSSA and AMO to the Province to reverse the administration cuts and report back to council on its advocacy efforts if needed.



Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @mcpaigepeacock

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