Thousands of early years educators, providers and parents have marched through Dublin for a “new deal” for childcare.
The marchers, who assembled on Wednesday in Parnell Square, marched to Leinster House calling on the next government to increase funding to ensure recruitment and retention of staff, and satisfactory wages for those who look after children.
The Together For Early Years coalition, which organised the march under the banner One United Voice, says increased funding is needed to reduces fees for parents, increase pay for educators and support the sustainability of services.
Siptu head of strategic organising and campaigns, Darragh O’Connor, said the sector is in crisis.
“More than 60% of educators earn less than the Living Wage of 12.30 euro per hour and parents are paying some of the highest fees in Europe,” he said.
“The next government has a choice, will it continue with a failing system, or will it invest in a new system that delivers for parents, educators, providers and children?”
Those who work in the sector have long stated that the sector is at breaking point due to escalating insurance, overregulation and low wages.
Many of the crowd, which was predominately made up of women, many aged in their early 20s and 30s, held signs which read: “The hand that rocks the cradle, rocks the nation” and “Time to use our outdoor voices”.
Many brought their own young children and babies in buggies to the protest, heavily backed by left-leaning political parties such as Sinn Fein, Labour and People Before Profit.
Together For Early Years is calling on the next government to:
– Double the funding to early childhood education and care services on an incremental basis over the lifetime of the next government to bring Ireland closer to the EU average
– Provide the necessary funding and mechanism for a Living Wage for early years educators in 2020 as a first step towards professional pay and recognition.
– Introduce a new funding model that supports affordability and accessibility for parents and conditions for educators, as committed to in First 5 (the Government strategy for young children and their families)
– Establish a streamlined inspection process with a graded compliance system
– Support effective policy development by engagement with the sector through respectful negotiation and a co-design approach.
Labour spokesperson on children and youth affairs, Sean Sherlock said the protest by childcare workers again highlights the need to reform the childcare system.
“There is a general consensus in this country of the need to provide a high-quality and affordable, European-style childcare service with a low staff turnover, that enables parents to work full time.
“We can’t have this conversation while continuing to ignore the fact that childcare workers aren’t being paid what they should be, with many struggling to make ends meet.
“At the same time, parents in Ireland are paying some of the highest childcare costs in Europe, often the equivalent of a mortgage payment or a month’s rent.
“This crisis has been bubbling over for some time now but we have not seen the change that is needed.”
However, not everyone in the sector was in agreement with the protest.
Karen Clince, founder and managing director of Tigers Childcare believes there is a workable solution that does not require striking.
“While there is an urgent need for improvements across many different areas, including inadequate pay for childcare workers, we cannot push this agenda at the cost of the children we care for.
“We are not in support of strike action because best outcomes for children should be at the heart of everything we do.
“This can be achieved by linking funding to inspection outcomes.
“A childcare provider should only be eligible for funding once it meets a certain quality rating.
“Those that qualify should also be required to sign up to a fair pay scale, ensuring that any additional funding is passed on to staff through better wages.”