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Expensive childcare is leading to an increase in underpaid au pairs in Ireland

Childcare workers are gathered outside Leinster House to protest about a lack of government investment in the sector this afternoon.

Image: Shutterstock/Katy Spichal

Updated 1.10pm 

MANY IRISH PEOPLE are turning to au pairs and live-in nannies due to the high cost of childcare in Ireland.

Parents in Ireland currently pay higher créche costs than their counterparts in all other European countries. Childcare professionals say parents have had to pick up the entire tab for childcare costs because the government isn’t investing enough.

The Irish government spends about 0.15% GDP per year on pre-school services, compared to an OECD average which is five times that (0.75%).

It is a two-fold problem: parents say they can’t afford to foot the bill for creches so consider cheaper alternatives such as au pairs, and then on the other side, childcare professionals claim they do not earn enough to survive.

Both sides expect the government to step in – closing the gap between Irish spend and the OECD average.

It comes as childcare professionals have gathered to protest outside Leinster House today, calling for more investment in childhood care and education. They want a government-backed payscale for the early-years workforce.

childcare 1 Source: Hugh O'Connell/TheJournal.ie

The protest is being organised by the Association of Childcare Professionals which wants government spending in the sector to increase from 0.1 per cent of gross domestic product to 0.7 per cent.

Speaking on RTÉ last night, Health Minister Leo Varadkar didn’t rule out the possibility of tax breaks for working parents to fund the cost of childcare but warned it could drive up the overall costs in the sector.

Exploitation?

Migrants Rights Centre Ireland has stated that au pairing in Ireland is a thriving industry but that the employees in many cases are overworked and underpaid.

An MRCI study found that 36% of au pairs reported being exploited. One au pair from South Africa said,

I was working from 7am until 10pm six days a week…I felt like a slave. I was afraid and did not know where to get help.

A search for au pair jobs in Ireland shows what is typically being offered:

au pairs

The price of an au pair (€80-€150 per week) is often far below the average fee for a full-time place in childcare which comes in at around €167 per week. The average price in urban areas is €174, while it’s €160 in rural areas.

Fianna Fail’s spokesman for children Robert Troy said: “The whole reason why more and more people are employing au pairs in Ireland is because of the growing cost of childcare and there is a responsibility on the part of the government.”

Sarah is a créche worker in Cork and when asked about the increase of au pairs in Ireland, she told TheJournal.ie:

I can understand why parents would do it- it is a lot cheaper.

“I see the struggle that parents have – childcare costs can be the difference between a parent going back to work or not.”

‘Losing qualified people’ 

The director of Start Strong, Ciairín de Buis, told TheJournal.ie that Irish parents have to pay the vast bulk of childcare costs, which isn’t sustainable.

Irish parents pay some of the highest fees in the world – this isn’t because we have the most expensive childcare in the world, but because our government invests so little.

Chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, Teresa Heeney, said créche workers qualified to degree level with years of experience are earning as little as €18,000 per year.

Chairperson of the Association of Childhood Professionals Marian Quinn said, “We are losing qualified, experienced people who can no longer afford to remain in the profession.

Earning a professional wage and supporting a child’s development should not be mutually exclusive.

Sarah said that students studying Early Childhood Studies in UCC were asked recently if they would pursue work in early years education – and that only 10 students out of a room of 100 people put up their hands.

When asked how many would consider staying in the area if the pay and status were higher, Sarah said that 50 students then put up their hands.

- additional reporting from Hugh O’Connell

Créche crisis: Parents at breaking point while workers call for strike over pay

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