THE Hunter's childcare workers have said they do more than "sit in the sand pit and play with Duplo" and deserve recognition as professionals.
They have called on the public to see them as more than just babysitters, with their union launching a "Big Steps" campaign for professional wages.
Centres around the region will begin submitting their quality improvement plans this month as part of a national quality framework.
The framework includes requirements that half of a centre's childcare workers have, or be working towards, a diploma level qualification and the other half a certificate III by 2014.
The childcare union United Voice wants the federal government to fund a pay increase to reflect the new requirements.
Elermore Vale Early Learning Centre director Cameron Miskin is among the Hunter childcare workers who has joined the campaign.
Mr Miskin left a factory job to study early childhood teaching at university.
"To a large degree it's seen as women's work and in the past hasn't been valued," he said.
"It's a huge responsibility, we have to look after children's health and safety. We're building their development and getting them ready for school."
He said professional wages would stem high staff turnover and attract better quality staff.
Sharron Duce from the centre has worked in childcare for more than 25 years.
When she began workers produced one annual report on students.
Carers are now required to regularly note observations in student portfolios and prepare lesson plans to guide children's development.
"People think childcare workers just sit in the sand pit and play with Duplo," she said.
"We have to speak to parents, give medication, develop records and make sure our students' needs are being met.
"We would like people to recognise what we do."
Prime Minister Julia Gillard met the early childhood sector in June to discuss reforms and agreed there could be more transparency with fees but said the government did not mandate wages.
"The feedback that I've had from providers is many of them strive to pay above the award rate and a number of them have actually, got turnover down," she said.