Affordable and universal childcare the solution to early years staffing woes

20 April 2023
  • SEO agreement only the starting point for early years workers

Speaking, following the publication by the Big Start Campaign of the SIPTU Early Years Staffing Survey, Labour Spokesperson on Employment Affairs Senator Marie Sherlock has called for increased investment in the sector, and for the introduction of a universal, childcare system.

Senator Sherlock said:

“Undeniably, there has been welcome progress in the provision of childcare since the Core Funding scheme was introduced in 2022. However, the fundamental problems in the sector remain. High fees and below-average levels of state investment, a lack of availability of places for children, and low wages for those working in the sector persist.

“I pay tribute to SIPTU and the Big Start Campaign for their continued campaigning. This survey helps to inform policymakers and the public about the changes in the sector. It now falls to the Minister for Children to ensure that this new information leads to a change in policy.

“One third of Early Years managers have described staffing as “a significant problem” facing their sector. Turnover in the sector stands at a very concerning 20%. I am aware of reports of unsuitable child to staff ratios being necessitated by a sheer lack of staff in some facilities. That is not just unfair on staff, parents and children, it is fundamentally unsafe.

“Undoubtedly, the Government’s unforgiveable decision to lift the eviction ban with no contingencies in place has exacerbated the crisis. Many early years educators are facing eviction, with others simply unable to rent a home near to where they work.

“Beneath the incremental progress and spin, the childcare sector remains in crisis. Despite welcome increases in funding in the last budget, the State share of GDP which is spent on childcare still falls well below the 1% recommended by UNICEF. The Government must grasp this nettle.

“We need serious investment in the development of high quality early years education, so as to guarantee each child in Ireland a state-funded pre-school place – this move is long overdue to make any serious progress towards achieving equality for mothers in the workplace, and to secure decent working arrangements for the overwhelmingly female workforce which makes up the childcare sector.

“The SEO agreement for early years educators in 2022 was a breakthrough but it’s only the beginning of a journey of engagement. Government must recognise that this was the start line, not the finish.

“Childcare should be seen as an integral part of a state-funded education system. We take for granted that the state has a responsibility to educate our children through primary and second-level. There is no good reason to abdicate this duty during a child’s earliest – and most impressionable – years.

“We in Labour – alongside Labour Women – have prepared an Equal Early Years plan, which sets out a roadmap for the introduction of a universal, public childcare system. It would guarantee a place for every child at the point at which their parents return to work (if they work). I am calling on Minister O’Gorman to engage with us on it and to use Budget 2024 to begin to implement it. It is what early years educators deserve. Importantly, we owe it to our children.”

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