SPIRALLING insurance costs, staff shortages and poor pay are set to bring childcare providers and educators out onto the street in a national protest next month.
The Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector has been historically underfunded and this protest is a direct result of that, according to an expert in the field.
Providers, educators and a number of organisations including the Association of Childcare Professionals, The Federation of Early Childhood Providers and SIPTU have united to carry out the protest march under the Early Years Alliance Umbrella.
In December, many providers saw their insurance costs increase considerably and as much as 300% for some, as one of the two insurers withdrew from the market.
“These spiralling insurance costs really were the last straw for ECEC providers,” said Dr Judith Butler, ECEC lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT).
“We have a pay crisis in the sector, with professionals earning very poor wages.
“There are over 25,000 employed in the ECEC profession and 60% are making below the living wage,” she added.
“In fact, the average wage for these professionals is approximately €12 per hour.
“Workers have informed me that securing car loans and mortgages are only a dream, and living week to week is a challenge and a struggle.
“We also have a staffing crisis with many providers being unable to recruit and retain staff - the turnover rate is extremely high.” Dr Butler explained that this has implications for consistency of care and quality.
She also highlighted the fact that families across the country are struggling to afford ECEC for their children, as Ireland boasts one of the highest childcare costs in Europe.
“Successive governments have under invested in this sector,” she said.
“We have continued to fail historically to invest properly in this very important area.
“We are, after all, talking about the lives of a very important group of citizens - our babies and young children,” added Dr Butler.
“They deserve more and so do the wonderful, highly qualified workforce who care and educate our children.
“I welcome this protest march and I will be supporting and attending.
“I hope it will raise awareness surrounding the crisis and will encourage our elected representatives to listen but above all act.
“Political parties now need to clarify how they intend to fix this growing crisis once and for all.”