Thursday, 7 October 2021
Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
293. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps his Department is taking to address the serious challenges in staff recruitment and retention within the early years sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49075/21]
I acknowledge that many early learning and childcare services are reporting staffing and recruitment difficulties, with increased pressures as a result of Covid-19. My Department is actively monitoring the issue and has sought data and evidence-based proposals from sectoral representatives.
The primary data-source for the sector is the Annual Early Years Sector Profile. In the most recent published Sector Profile (published in 2021, and relating to data from 2020), 44% of services reported challenges in recruiting suitably qualified staff over the past 12 months. While this figure was down 9% from the previous year, it remains very high. The staff turnover rate has similarly fallen from 23% to 18%, but remains unacceptably high.
Recruitment and recruitment difficulties in the sector are undoubtedly linked to poor terms and conditions in the workforce, with for example the average pay being €12.45 per hour.
I am very conscious of the need for significant improvement in pay and working conditions for practitioners in early learning and childcare services. The level of pay they receive does not reflect the value of the work they do for children, for families and for the wider society and economy.
As the State does not employ early learning and childcare practitioners, I cannot set wage levels or determine working conditions for staff in the sector. My Department has, however, over a number of years provided a range of supports to service providers to enable them to improve wages and working conditions.
I am committed to doing what is in my power to improve wages and working conditions. That is why last December I began a process to examine the possibility of regulating pay and conditions in the sector and the suitability of a Joint Labour Committee (JLC). In agreement with IBEC/Childhood Services Ireland, and SIPTU, I appointed Dr Kevin Duffy, former Chair of the Labour Court, to be the independent chair of this process.
On foot of Dr Duffy’s report, on 11 March I wrote to the Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, recommending the establishment of a JLC for the sector.
In line with the provisions of the Industrial Relations Acts, the Labour Court recommended establishment of a JLC, and Minister English accepted the Labour Court’s recommendations. The Establishment Order came into effect at the beginning of July. The JLC will provide an opportunity for unions and employer representatives to work together to determine wages and working conditions for ELC and SAC.
In addition, work on a Workforce Development Plan for ELC and SAC continues, with a final report expected by the end of the year.