Seanad debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Childcare Services

10:30 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his appointment. I wish him well. I hope he will be a font of fresh and new thinking in regard to this key issue.

I want to start with some quotations from childcare workers. The first reads as follows:

I hope to leave my service in the next month. I will try one last service and if I am still unhappy, I will leave childcare. I have an honours degree and have worked in three places in the last three years in search of decent working conditions. I worked in a petrol station for nine years previously and was on better pay.

The second reads:

I hope to leave the sector. I cannot see any change coming. I am working longer hours for less pay.

The next reads:

The employers are given grants to support the opening of businesses but staff get nothing, as usual.

In fairness, the Minister is already aware that the childcare sector is in crisis. We know that, for parents, the service is too expensive, for the workers involved, the levels of pay are just too low, and for the childcare providers, there is very little money to be made in the sector, which is fundamentally broken. Sinn Féin unveiled its own policy for a fundamental transformation of childcare towards a fully State-funded model earlier this week. This morning, I want to hone in on two crucial issues for this upcoming budget: the first is pay and the second is provision for sick pay for these childcare workers.

It seems quite a long time ago now, but it was only February when 30,000 people marched outside of this building in respect of childcare, such was the depth of feeling, anger and despair, coupled with hope that someone this time would listen. There is no question that staff retention is a key issue and, indeed, it is mentioned in the programme for government. Just to make clear how bad the situation is, there is a 40% attrition rate in full day-care services, which means four out of ten workers leave the service each year. We cannot build a childcare service on that basis. We cannot build a childcare service on the basis of an average rate of pay of €11.46 an hour, with many childcare workers being paid just the minimum wage or barely above. It is not sustainable. Some 79% do not have a sick pay scheme. These figures come from the Pobal annual survey, so there is no doubt regarding the validation of these points. They need proper pay and a living wage, and they also need provision for sick pay.

This is an issue that is personal to me because, before taking this job, I worked as a SIPTU official trying to organise childcare workers. The Minister can imagine my shock when I found that thousands of them actually have to sign on each summer for unemployment payments. That is no way to treat these workers; it is no way to treat the sector.

There are two simple asks. First, I ask that the Minister would introduce a living wage guarantee. Ring-fenced funding is important because, while, to be fair, previous Governments increased funding, it is still way below where it should be at 25% of the European average. When funding has been increased, it has not reached its way to the pay packets of those workers, which, again, feeds into the cycle of people leaving. A survey by SIPTU earlier this year showed that only one third of graduates in this area intend to work in the sector. We need decent funding, a living wage guarantee and sick pay provision. A five-day sick pay provision would cost just €6 million and it would cost €30 million for a living wage guarantee.

I hope we will see new thinking, new proposals and a real commitment to these workers in next week's budget. I look forward to the Minister's response.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.