A failed bid to boost the wages of thousands of low-paid childcare educators has left the sector "in mourning", a Wollongong childcare centre manager says.
Kathy Patrick is the manager of four Boombalee Kidz childcare centres in Wollongong, Nowra and Singleton and was heavily involved with a campaign to win wage gains in the childcare sector under the previous federal government.
Labor set aside $300 million in the budget - and signed contracts for $62.5 million of this - to provide wage increases to 30,000 childcare workers in a move designed to give the sector certainty for two years while the Fair Work Commission considered a broader push for wage hikes in the social and community sector.
This week, the Abbott government announced it would reassign the unspent millions to provide professional development to educators, and has asked childcare providers to hand back the $62.5 million already given to them.
With the paperwork lengthy and the window for applications made narrow by the change of government, Ms Patrick and many others never managed to apply for her share of the funding.
But she said she had known since the change of government that the wage hikes would not materialise.
"I think [the sector] is in a little bit of a mourning period," she said.
"It is very disappointing that the Abbott government has done this. It was a really long, hard battle for us to get this money. Professional development is a great idea but it doesn't really help you pay your mortgage or your rent."
Had she successfully applied for a share of the fund, Ms Patrick would have received a pay rise of $4.74 an hour - about $180 a week.
She said she would have used the increase to save for a holiday and to end her reliance on Centrelink payments.
Ms Patrick is a single parent and works 38 hours a week but still relies on Centrelink to supplement her wage.
"I have friends who went to university exactly the same amount of time as I did and they're on $45,000-$50,000 more than me," she said.
"It's a staggering, staggering discrepancy.
"Most single people don't work in children's services because it's not enough to live on.
"It's obviously seen as women's work - the same as nurses and aged care. I don't think caring as a profession is appreciated at all."
United Voice union national president Michael Crosby yesterday condemned the government's decision to "gut" the fund, and accused Mr Abbott of misleading Parliament with his commitment to honour all signed contracts.
"This is indicative of the Abbott government's disregard for its election commitments and its shambolic approach to policy development," Mr Crosby said.
But the Australian Childcare Alliance backed the move to divert funding into professional development.
It said arrangements made under the Labor government were "unfair, divisive and ill-conceived" and ignored about 73 per cent of educators.
ACA president Gwynn Bridge queried how Goodstart Learning, with 10 per cent of the sector, had received 44.5 per cent of the total fund.
"We have concerns that Goodstart were able to submit 5000 pages of application for the funding within 48 hours of the fund opening," she said.