“We have to address affordability in childcare and ensure childcare professionals are being properly paid and are earning a proper living wage”, said Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne as he backed a campaign by SIPTU early years workers in Wexford.
Local activists are seeking the support of the county’s Oireachtas members for a pre-Budget submission by the union calling for an investment of €150 million in childcare to address issues that include what Wexford SIPTU official Lenka Halouzkova called ‘poverty pay rates’ in the sector along with the need for a reduction in costs for parents.
“Early Years professionals are forced to leave the sector due to low wages. The recruitment and retention of staff is impossible and parents are struggling to secure childcare for their children”, she said.
"It’s creating bottleneck situation that will soon explode if the government doesn’t step in. There is an opportunity now for the present government to fix this broken model and start to value Early Years professionals.
“Ireland has the most expensive childcare in Europe while many of Early years educators earn below living wage of €12.30.”
Campaign member Thomas Dowling said “It’s time for the government to stand up and acknowledge the work we do and the role we play in Irish society”.
Childcare employee Megan Jordan said she has a Level 8 degree in Early Childhood and Education and is earning €13 an hour after studying part-time while working.
"The amount I am paid doesn’t reflect the three years of hard work I dedicated to my studies and the overall emotional and mental stress of getting a degree through part-time education and holding down a full-time job at the same time.
"I have my degree four years now and I’m still only given 38 weeks of guaranteed hours in the year and I have to sign on with social welfare for the rest of the year or use my holidays to ensure that my bills are paid.
"And this is while being asked to continuously upskill in new areas of childcare in my own time mostly. I love the job I do and educating the next generation is very rewarding, but I can’t continue in this sector with a degree that is not respected by the government while I’m struggling from week to week to pay my way in the world”
Childcare employee Alison Hallahan said: “ Early Years teachers are leaving the sector despite their love for children and the job but they have no other option. The pay is just not there. You will get more money in retail and you don’t have to have a Level 8 qualification and do continuous professional development in your free time. Most people with higher level of education are trying to get into better positions like SNA’s and primary school. Nobody wants to stay any more.”
In a survey carried out by SIPTU’s ‘Big Start’ campaign, 80% of Early Years employees said they will not be working in the sector in a year’s time if things don’t change, according to Ms Halouzkova.
She said the annual turnover of staff is already 40% on average in full day care services. After pay, the second reason for leaving the sector is stress and burnout. Employees are predominantly female (98%) and only 11% of Early Years professionals would recommend the job to others.
The group met Sinn Fein deputy Johnny Mythen last month and is due to talk to Labour TD Brendan Howlin this week.
“We are calling on our TDs to show their support for childcare workers and parents in the lead-up to Budget 2022”, she said.