Early childcare workers are struggling on wages of just €9 per hour
Struggling pre-school workers are earning as little as €9 an hour, or €351 a week - far below the average industrial weekly wage of €828.88, it emerged yesterday.
The very low wages in the childcare sector mean growing numbers are having to find work elsewhere, warned Dr Mary Moloney, a lecturer in early childhood studies at the University of Limerick.
"If you are lucky it is €10 per hour (€380 per week), less than half the industrial wage. Managers themselves who hold a Level 8 honours degree stated that they earn between €12 and €14 per hour ," she told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.
"One manager advised that, after working in the sector for five years, she is seriously considering leaving to work in a factory or a shop - explaining 'anywhere I can earn more money... I want to get a mortgage, to have a life'.
"I recently analysed data from the 2014 annual occupational profile study with BA graduates in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick," said Dr Moloney.
"The findings make for disturbing reading and endorse the view that educators are 'undervalued and underpaid' with a pervading sense that the work 'is not something I can continue to do in the long term, conditions are terrible'.
"One graduate described how she was 'back living at home with my parents because there is no way I could afford to pay rent/bills on my salary'," she said.
The committee, which has been examining the issue of affordable childcare, heard that "these stories are replicated all over Ireland as those working in the sector find it difficult to live independently, to secure a car loan or procure a mortgage," said Dr Moloney.
"Crucially, there is no reward for obtaining a degree in early childhood education and care and, with the exception of the ECCE scheme - which requires a minimum of a Level 6 qualification - there is no incentive for existing educators in the field to upskill to higher level qualifications."
The committee was told that 70-80pc of the income of a pre-school goes on wages and the rest covers overheads associated with operating the business - including rates, mortgage, insurance, maintenance and equipment.
Dr Moloney said: "Parents are hard-pressed to pay current childcare fees, and there is evidence that some are left with no option but to leave their employment when a second child arrives.
"Equally, managers cannot afford to pay salary increases; any such increase would warrant a significant increase in fees." She blamed inadequate investment and poor planning for so many centres closing their doors in recent times.