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Report on pay levels in childcare sector to be finalised in coming days

The department appointed former Labour Court chairman and barrister Dr Kevin Duffy as the independent chairman of the process.

Image: PA Images

A REPORT ON low pay levels and working conditions in the childcare sector is to be given to the Department of Children in the coming days, the minister has said.

Roderic O’Gorman, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, said the report will outline the issues and solutions to pay and conditions for workers in the sector.

The department appointed former Labour Court chairman and barrister Dr Kevin Duffy to be the independent chairman of the process.

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy are proposing to investigate how a new childcare system can be built in post-pandemic Ireland. See how you can support this project here.

“In December, 2020, working in partnership with (unions) Siptu, Childhood Services Ireland and Ibec, I began a short process in which interested parties were invited to discuss how best to address issues of pay and conditions in the sector, and how a joint labour committee might support this,” O’Gorman told the Dail.

“The series of meetings concluded earlier this week, and Dr Duffy will shortly submit to me a report outlining the issues and the possible solutions raised in the process, and make recommendation on the next steps.

“I recognise there are significant further steps to be taken, but I understand that there is broad agreement on the potential benefits of regulating wages in the sector, and the possible benefits of establishing a joint labour committee as a way forward.

“I welcome the commitment that all the parties have shown in engaging in the process so far.

“I am very hopeful that progress will continue over the months ahead.”

It comes after a survey published last week found that just 22% of early years educators earn more than the living wage of 12.30 euro per hour, while 90% of the sector’s professionals struggle to make ends meet.

The survey of 2,000 professionals also found that nearly half of workers are actively seeking another job because of low pay levels.

Over 1,800 early learning and childcare services are currently open and providing childcare to children of essential workers and to vulnerable children.

Sinn Fein’s Kathleen Funchion said that workers want more than “thanks and admiration”.

“They want better pay and conditions, they deserve better pay and conditions and they want their work to be valued by actions of this Government,” she told the Dail.

“We have continued to have a broken childcare system that has been underfunded.

“It cannot be understated the impact of this terrible disease has had on all of our health and our freedom, the list really is endless.

“But it has presented us with a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity, to completely overhaul the current childcare system.

“The reality is there can be no recovery without a properly funded childcare sector that works for everybody, and not a strategy that doesn’t simply patch up what we have, but thinks big and is brave.”

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary when tens of thousands of the sector marched through Dublin, seeking better pay and working conditions.

It is being marked by a day of online events.

Labour’s Sean Sherlock said he doubts the report will recommend the status quo to remain.

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He said it is reasonable to expect the report to recommend an increase in pay and conditions.

Sherlock added: “If there is such an outcome in that it advocates pay increase and better working conditions, how soon thereafter does the Government anticipate it will act on those recommendations?”

O’Gorman said he sees the “crucial importance” of increasing wages across the sector.

“There will be no lack of speed on my part to take the recommendations we get and implementing them,” Mr O’Gorman added.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore expressed her concern at the number of childcare workers moving to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

In response to a parliamentary question by Whitmore, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphries said that the number of childcare workers receiving the PUP has risen from 1,992 on 21 December to 4,175 on 1 February.

“This is a very worrying trend and reveals fundamental problems with the Employers’ Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS), which was designed to help employers retain staff and keep them on the books,” said Whitmore in a statement.

Being on the PUP also has implications for childcare workers in terms of PRSI contributions and other rights such as their holiday entitlements. We also still do not have a statutory sick leave scheme, which contributes to workers’ insecurity. 

“Our childcare sector continues to be riddled with chronic underinvestment, quality and affordability issues and a crisis of pay and conditions for staff. Covid-19 has made these issues worse and staff retention is at an all-time low due to the lack of security staff and employers have on the EWSS.”

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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