Wednesday, 18 November 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Paul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
I agree wholeheartedly with everything Senator McDowell has said. That is not easy for me to do because we come from very different political perspectives. The fact of the matter is that I find myself, not for the first time, in complete agreement with him.
There is something very worrying happening in the Chamber. There are not many of us in opposition. There is a large conservative bloc across the way. The two conservative parties are together, along with the Green Party. We do not have much in the way of speaking time to begin with. If we are serious about using the Chamber in the sort of constructive way Senator O'Reilly described, the last thing we should be doing is reducing speaking time for the few of us who are in opposition.
I appeal to the Leader not to go ahead with this. I have spoken to my party leader about the matter. She does not have the agreement of Sinn Féin at this point. We ask her to park this point so that we can work collectively. We do not agree to the reduction in speaking time. There is too little of it for those on the Opposition benches as it is.The issue I want to raise today is childcare. It was raised last week, I think, by Senator Carrigy. He spoke about the crisis in childcare and he was right to highlight it. However, he suggested a temporary loosening of the qualifications required to work in childcare and I want to say this is not a solution. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because the pay and conditions of childcare are so appalling. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because thousands of childcare workers have to sign on each summer. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because the average rate of pay is just €11.46. The reason we have a crisis in childcare is because 79% of childcare workers have no recourse to a sick pay scheme.
Sinn Féin put forward very concrete solutions in this regard and suggestions for the budget to ring-fence €30 million to ensure every childcare worker gets a living wage, as was asked for by the SIPTU trade union that has organised thousands of them. We also asked for a minimum of five days' sick pay. I have raised this issue in the Chamber for five years in a row and, once again, the Government of the day ignored those requests and did nothing for childcare workers.
I appeal to everyone in the Chamber because we all know people working in childcare and they are voting with their feet. There is a huge issue in terms of people leaving the sector because they cannot afford to earn a living in it. We speak about essential workers. These are essential workers. There were 19 outbreaks of Covid in one week in October in childcare services but these workers are not required to wear a face mask. It is all well and good to applaud these essential workers but the fact of the matter is that for the past six years nothing has been done for them. The Government had an opportunity in recent budgets and once again it ignored it. I call for a debate on childcare services because we need to hear everyone's views on this and come up with concrete solutions.