Group says sick pay changes will force preschools to close

Most preschools and crèches would close down, lay off staff, or increase charges to parents if the Government goes ahead with changes to sick pay arrangements.

A group representing more than 3,000 service providers for 80,000 children said requirements to maintain staffing levels force them to replace any sick staff, meaning the planned changes would not be affordable to them as employers.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton is believed to be preparing plans for next year’s budget that would see employers rather than her department pick up the tab for the first four weeks of sick pay in a move that could save the exchequer about €89m a year.

The proposal has already been rejected by employer bodies and is understood to be causing Cabinet tensions.

Ms Burton recently claimed the move would cost employers less than €1 a week for each worker.

Early Childhood Ireland, which represents preschools, crèches, and after-school services, said its members could not afford to foot the bill.

In a survey of 400 members, more than half in the preschool and daycare sectors said they would have to close down their service if they had to pay the first month’s sick pay for absent staff.

More than one third said they would have to make staff redundant, and 42% of childcare services said they would increase fees to stay afloat if Ms Burton’s proposal is introduced.

Others said staff wages would have to be cut, as there is no option to increase fees within the Government scheme to provide a year’s free preschool.

Most of the providers which responded employ less than 10 people, and many indicated they were already struggling financially, the organisation said.

The average cost of absent-eeism over the past year to those who responded was €2,028, and only 26% said they currently pay for sick leave.


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