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'We're seen as glorified babysitters': Survey finds 94% of childcare workers can't make ends meet

More than half of people working in the sector are actively looking for another job.

A NEW SURVEY has found most workers in the early childhood sector are questioning their future in the job as they struggle to make ends meet on their current wages.

The Early Years Professionals survey report was compiled by social scientists Dr Amy Greer Murphy who said today that, despite being unsatisfied with their pay and conditions, respondents said they were “very passionate about the sector”.

“The reason they kept going back to their job was because of the children themselves. However they said despite their dedication and enthusiasm, there were a few factors that made it really difficult for them to see a future for themselves in the sector.”

Just 13% of respondents said they felt recognised as a professional by society.

The survey highlighted a number of issues with working conditions, with more than half of respondents saying they do not have enough time to take breaks in work, 72% saying they regularly do unpaid work and 66% stating they pay for educational materials out of their own pocket.

A large cohort of workers are also paying for their own training to upskill and doing it outside of work hours.

Speaking at the launch of the report today, Eva Lawes, deputy manager of a Montessori and after school facility in Dublin, said she received no State support to gain additional qualifications. 

She said the government is pushing for higher qualified staff with a minimum of Fetac level 6, but the funding to assist people is not there.

I myself went and did the Fetac level six course and Montessori certificate at night because I couldn’t afford to do it full time, I had to continue working. And so I’d work ten hours shifts during the day, I’d leave work and do three hours of college during the nights, twice a week and weekends also. I had rent to pay along with the bills, and I also have to save approximately €4,000 to do this course.

Lawes, who has been working in the sector for ten years, said after she received her certificate her wages went up by €1 an hour.

The majority of respondents in the survey said they are unable to make ends meet on their current income and 84% cannot cope with unexpected expenses like replacing a broken washing machine.

More than half are actively looking for another job.

The average hourly rate for an educator in the sector, according to the report, is €10.96 and the average rate for an assistant manager is €12.70.

Owner managers earn an average hourly rate of €12.09. Dublin has the highest average hourly rate for all grades and the lowest (€10.81) is in Kerry.

“I love my job but as it stands I would be doing this job in the future if things don’t change,” said Lawes, adding that the current system “isn’t working for anyone”.

“Parents can’t afford the cost, providers can’t afford to keep the doors open and educators like myself are struggling to make ends meet. As a sector we’re not taken seriously, we are in my experience seen as glorified babysitters and many people are totally unaware of the day-to-day pressure of working in childcare.

We’re responsible for each child in our care’s, emotional, social, physical and intellectual education, whilst also being cooks, cleaners, first aiders, negotiators, therapists, entertainers, and everything else in between.

“There’s no one person to blame in this,” she said explaining that providers are also struggling to make their businesses viable.

“My boss didn’t take a wage for this week or last week because there’s no money coming in, because the funding has not been paid yet for the children who are supposed to be funded.”

Siptu head of organising and campaigns Darragh O’Connor said today that the union would not rule out potential industrial action if the situation does not change. 

“People are not able to stay in a job they love, poverty is pushing people out of the sector,” he said.

He said when decisions are being made in the Budget about investing in a living wage for early years educators, the government needs to think about the “bigger impact” this has on the lives of children and their futures. 

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