Speaking in a Dáil debate on childcare workers today, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD called for professional pay scales to end precarity for those who look after our children.

Deputy Shortall said:

“We have always known the first five years are the most important in a person’s life. It is the time when the future emotional, social and educational well-being is laid down. However, when it comes to government investment, children always seem to be the last in line. As a result, we have one of the most under undeveloped childcare systems in the EU. UNICEF’s international benchmark for investment in early years education is 1% of GDP. We spend just 0.5%: below the average for OECD countries and just 25% of the European average investment in early years services. We are no-where near the 1.8% of GDP spent in Iceland, the 1.6% in Sweden, or 1.4% invested by the Danish.

“As a result of this chronic underfunding we now have a service that is highly inconsistent, and a sector that is verging on a staffing crisis.

“We will all have seen the recent survey from Early Childhood Ireland:

  • 86% of their respondents are concerned that difficulties recruiting and retaining staff will impact on the viability of their service;
  • 36% of those who tried to recruit staff in the last twelve months were unable to find anyone suitable;
  • But most concerning, 46% of those who did manage to recruit had to settle for someone with lower qualifications than they would have wanted.

“This isn’t really surprising. Despite the fact this is a well qualified workforce, with a minimum qualification of a level 5 QQI award, they are earning below the living wage and working in incredibly precarious conditions.

“Amongst the estimated 22,000 workers in this sector, many are employed for just 15 hours a week, or only on contract for 39 weeks a year- forcing thousands of trained workers  to sign on to social welfare each summer. This is no way to treat an essential workforce. It is no wonder that the sector has a staff turnover rate of almost 30%.

“The motion aims to create an employment regime that reflects the level of professionalism and educational attainment that we expect from those intrusted with the care of children.

“The current system is completely unacceptable and there is a clear need for the introduction of professional pay scales, continuous professional development, and paid non-contract time. However, we also need to know what it is actually costing to run a quality service which can appropriately remunerate its staff. In the absence of the sort of cost review called for by Early Childhood Ireland, it’s hard to see the basis on which the government is making its policy decisions.

“This is evident in the approaching roll-out of the affordable childcare scheme. While, I note the motion calls on the Government to address the additional administrative work load this will cause, I am mindful that all deputies would have received a message from the Private Early Education Providers this morning, outlining their concerns regarding the extension of this scheme. In particular, they note that they have not received any contracts for participation. This appears to belie a fundamental misunderstanding of the work load these providers face and the significant strain they are already under.

“Fundamentally, it indicates a lack of respect for those who will be providing the scheme. This needs to end. If we are to ensure the quality of care we expect this sector to provide, then Government need to take action and provide the decent pay and fair working conditions workers deserve.”

ENDs

5 July 2017