'Crèche fees to rise with minimum wage hike'
There are growing concerns that parents will face a hike in the cost of crèche fees in the New Year.
When Finance Minister Michael Noonan confirmed in last week's Budget that the minimum wage would rise by 50c to €9.15, experts within the sector confirmed they believe childcare fees will rise with it.
This fresh concern comes just days after the Irish Independent revealed that industry experts fear there will not be enough places or childcare workers to provide care for the extension of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme by a year.
The ECCE scheme currently offers 15 hours a week of free pre-school care to children aged three for one year.
From September 2016, the scheme will accept children up until the age of five, and it will introduce additional entry points in January, April and September. It is currently restricted to just September.
Speaking about problems with the ECCE extension, one source said salary is a huge factor as many facilities use the privately paid fees to subsidise the cost of having children who are enrolled in the scheme.
"Effectively what the Government are saying is: 'Take in those children, we are going to make it cheap for parents, but we are not giving you anything to make the job worthwhile'," one source said.
"For many years, I have been listening to people saying I can work in McDonald's and I will get €10 (an hour).
"The other dilemma now for managers is that the minister has said: 'I will pay €64.50 from next year for those three hours (under the ECCE scheme)'. He is now determining the cost of childcare. Yet we are told (the government) can't give tax breaks to parents because ... the sector will increase their fees. The minister can't have it every way."
Teresa Heeney from Early Childhood Ireland said she believes many workers in the sector are earning above the minimum wage already, but added: "I'd say there is a lot of them on not a whole lot more."
She said: "In the context of any operation, whether it is a childcare operation or any operation, you have to cover your costs, obviously. And if the minimum wage is going up, your operation is going to cost you an additional (amount).
"But that's to do with the minimum wage increase as opposed to the extension of the free pre-school year.
"If the minimum wage goes up, and you are a service that's paying the minimum wage, then there is an inevitability that the fees will have to go up. What else would they be supposed to do?," she added.
Speaking to RTÉ yesterday, Children's Minister James Reilly said Government funding for the ECCE is increasing from €260m to €345m.
Mr Reilly also said the delayed introduction of the scheme until next September will allow time to "prepare for the expansion".