THE Strategic Organiser of SIPTU has described how low pay in the early years sector has left many childcare workers with no choice but to live at home with parents at serious risk of Covid-19.
Eva Mitchell said that a number of the workers she heard from have requested to be transferred to administration roles in creches and pre-schools to avoid close contact with children.
Ms Mitchell was speaking out following a decision to postpone the return of early years settings until January 11 in response to a recent surge in Covid-19 cases across the country.
She said that this lockdown is even more frightening for childcare workers than ever before. With this in mind, she called for tighter measures to protect childcare workers and their families.
"In the last wave the advice for people in the sector was not to wear masks," she said. "However, we have no idea what this new strain entails. Cases are increasing all the time and people haven't been able to get risk assessments carried out. They don't know what they're facing into or how to protect themselves. I can understand why there was opposition to childcare workers wearing masks. This is a critical stage where young children are so reliant on facial cues and non-verbal forms of communication. However, with this new variant, we have to vigilant, even if it's just for a few months."
Ms Mitchell added that issues like low pay are only adding to childcare workers' challenges during the pandemic.
"The age demographic is very broad and childcare workers range from being in their twenties to their sixties. There are a lot of people who have been living at home with parents because the wages are so low. Low pay was an issue before Covid-19 but the pandemic has heightened so many existing problems in the sector. Some are very concerned because their parents are in the high-risk category. What they have been negotiating with management to be moved into a different role where they won't be in such close contact with the children."
She called for NPHET to put forward detailed guidelines for childcare workers.
"Early years setting need to be treated with parity and in line with schools.
"The last thing we want is for early years settings to be put forward as an experiment."