Thousands of early childcare professionals took to the streets of Dublin city centre this afternoon to highlight the “crisis” the sector is facing.
The march, organised by Siptu and the Early Years Alliance, began at Parnell Square and traveled through the city centre before gathering along Merrion Square.
An estimate of more than 20,000 protesters rallied together in protest of a lack of government support and unfair wages in the sector.
The streets were awash with the sight of placards and flags, among which was a lone bundle of balloons that read, “Happy to change a nappy, but not to put up with this sh*t!"
The Department of Children previously issued a circular to childcare providers outlining the implications they would face if they were to participate in the rally. The Department later withdrew a threat to cut their funding.
It warned pre-school and other childcare scheme payments will be pulled for a day if they partially or fully shut down services.
However, the warning seemed lost on the crowd while they sang and danced to Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ and Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’.
Among the protesters was Julie London, owner of Happy Faces creche, in Askeaton, Co Limerick.
Julie, whose creche employs 16 childcare professionals and cares for 95 children, said she can’t afford to pay her staff a fair wage because of high rates and insurance costs.
“I want to pay my girls the money that my girls should be getting but I’m not in a position to do that.
“My rates are 7,000, my insurance is gone up to 10,000 this year. We’ve been given a €5 increase in our ECCE (Early Childcare and Education Scheme) weekly payment in 10 years, but they expect us to pay our girls the money that they should be paid, which is wrong,” she said.
“Our insurance at the beginning was 3,000, and it’s now 10,000. There's been an insurer that's pulled out of the market so there's a monopoly there for the other insurance company, people claiming for things, that’s pushed it up and we're hitting the brunt of it. That's one factor.
“I have 16 staff members. I've had some of them for the 13 years I've been there and they should be on a hell of a lot more money than they are, and I'm not in a position to be able to pay it to them.
“It's hard because you're advertising for staff, and you want good quality, good staff, but there's nobody going into the profession, because they're not getting recognised for the work that they're doing.
“The girls are going off in their own time doing courses. They're getting their higher levels, but they're never going to make that money back that they paid out for their course.
“I have one girl leaving to go into a different profession. None of my staff have left to go to another creche, we are the best employers as we can be and we want to be able to pay them the money that they're entitled to.
Julie added that only nine children from her creche have benefited from the National Childcare Scheme, a statutory entitlement to financial support for families towards the cost of childcare, which came into effect last November.
Childcare provider and lecturer, Mary Doohan McCraith, of Lamha Beaga Montessori, Co Donegal, said the government “should be cherishing and investing” in early years childcare to prevent difficulties that can surface later on as the child grows older.
“What’s happening at the moment is we’re only getting three hours of pay a day. We’re only getting €4.60 a child per hour. Out of that, we have to pay our heating, our electricity, our tax, everything has to come out of that.
“They don’t give us any extra for the likes of our planning, our curriculum, our observations. We have to do that outside of school time.
“We feel that the government needs to understand that our children are the richness of our country and we should be cherishing and investing in them.
“Looking at the difficulties that we’re having at adolescence and into adulthood, if we had support in the early years, those difficulties might not be happening.
“With educator’s from level five to 9, there is no pay scale. Regardless of what it is that you’re actually teaching, you’re going to get the same pay. We’re not on a living wage."