Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Early Childhood Care Education
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to address my former director of elections in the Chamber. How different things were this time last year.
I ask the Minister of State if there have been any moves by his Department to introduce a salary scale for workers in the child care industry to ensure that their qualifications are reflected in their salaries in the interests of quality. The Minister of State will be aware that staff in the child care sector work an average of 39 hours per week. In return, they receive only two paid sick days per year and 20 days holidays. I am aware of a case in my home county, Galway, where four staff with full degrees working in a community child care facility are earning between €22,000 and €25,000, at the maximum, per year while their manager earns just €27,000. In addition, there is no in-work pension entitlement accrued by these workers. The resultant frustration from talking to these staff on their burn-out is only compounded by the fact that they are subject to regular HSE and Pobal inspections as well as having the responsibility of introducing a new curriculum to be overseen by Tusla.
While it is only right that standards should be so high within the child care sector, when these pressures and expectations are not reflected in the wages paid to employees, it does a huge disservice to them. One of the greatest issues facing the sector is retention of staff. It has been brought up with me by a number of people working in the child care sector. I worry that there will be a considerable drain of talent from the industry. In fact, it is already happening as a result of the stressful working conditions and the low pay involved. As a result, many child care workers are choosing instead to go into teaching as an alternative where they will have training times and will not have to comply with the expectation of weekend and long evening work.
My worry really is that at a time of greater than ever need of child care places we are driving graduates out of the industry and making the discourse surrounding work in the child care sector a net negative. A wage structure such as those in place for the construction and house hospitality sectors is needed. I appreciate fully that the Minister of State cannot introduce wage structures in every industry, but it is very important in the child care sector in particular. It would be a welcome move for the thousands who work in the sector and would advance the dignity at work agenda which has been at the heart of Government policy. Will such a salary scale be considered by the Department in light of the qualifications achieved by workers and in recognition of the great service they provide in fostering the future of our nation? I thank the Minister of State for attending and look forward to his response.
I thank the Senator. That is appreciated. The amount of pay an employee receives is a matter for negotiation and agreement between the individual and the employer subject only to the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. There is nothing to prevent employees reaching individual or collective agreements with employers on higher rates based on qualifications or other agreed criteria. As the Senator will be aware, I have created a legislative framework to allow that to happen. The Low Pay Commission, which I established earlier this year, will, on an annual basis, examine and make recommendations to the Minister of the day on the national minimum wage with a view to ensuring that the national minimum wage, where adjusted, is adjusted incrementally having had regard to changes in earnings, productivity, overall competitiveness and the likely impact any adjustment would have on employment and unemployment levels. The commission submitted its first report to me last July and recommended an increase of 50 cent per hour for an experienced adult worker. I will introduce that positive change on 1 January 2016, which will benefit approximately 124,000 of the lowest paid workers in our society.The Government has moved on a number of fronts to facilitate other forms of wage setting, in contrast with the view taken by other western European democracies in a post-recession scenario. We have enhanced wage-setting mechanisms and our collective bargaining legislation to support low-paid workers. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2012 provides a framework within which employers and employee representatives, through the joint labour committee, JLC, system, can come together voluntarily and negotiate terms and conditions of workers in their sector. When it reaches agreement on terms and conditions, the JLC publishes details and invites submissions. If, after consideration of any submissions received, the committee adopts the proposals, it will submit them to the Labour Court for consideration. The Labour Court will then make a decision on the adoption of the proposals. If the court decides they should be adopted, it will forward a copy of the proposals to the Minister. If it is considered appropriate, an order giving effect to such proposals will be made by the Minister. Such orders will be known as employment regulation orders. I signed two such orders on 1 October last for the security and contract cleaning sectors. These two orders will benefit, on a net basis, approximately 50,000 workers. Pay rates negotiated in the JLC fora have tended to be above the national minimum wage.
The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015, which came into effect on 1 August, provides for a revised legislative framework to replace the registered employment agreement, REA, framework that was deemed invalid by the Supreme Court in 2013. The legislation sets out a replacement framework for REAs in individual enterprises and a new mechanism whereby pay, pension and sick pay provisions in a particular sector can be established, agreed and enforced by order.
I have outlined the legislative frameworks available to various sectors across the economy in terms of wage-setting mechanisms. There are opportunities for individual sectors to have their pay and terms and conditions examined in a structured way, for example, through the JLC system. While they are voluntary systems, where a JLC system is active, the legislation insists that a trade union that is representative of workers in the sector be active on the JLC and that it include representative bodies that represent the employer bodies. Thus the organisations can come forward and agree on improvements in the sector and the improvements can be approved by the Labour Court and, subsequently, adopted by the Minister of the day by way of employment regulation order. There are opportunities available under legislation to every sector to engage wage-setting mechanisms to improve their pay and terms and conditions and the position of the industry in general.