Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Questions (40, 51)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

40. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the status of her proposal to provide sectoral payscales for those working in community child care settings. [43465/17]

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Denise Mitchell

Question:

51. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the measures she is taking in order to ensure wages in the early years sector are increased to a rate to which it is considered a viable long-term employment option for qualified workers. [43695/17]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 51 together.

Child care workers play a critical role in delivering high quality child care services and they deserve to be recognised, valued and respected for this. My Department acknowledges that pay and conditions are major issues facing the sector and can lead to difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.

My Department is somewhat constrained in what it can do in this regard as it is not an employer of child care workers. However it is of course a major funder of the child care sector. It is important to note that the most important stakeholders in putting agreed pay structures in place in any sector are recognised employers and employee groups.

My Department is aware that trade unions are active in seeking to achieve a critical mass of representation on the employee side, and I welcome this move. My Department would also be supportive of any move on the employer side to establish a recognised representative body.

In terms of improving pay and conditions, I have suggested to the sector that it might apply to the Labour Court for a sectoral employment order, SEO, asking the court to make a recommendation regarding pay for the whole early years sector. Under an SEO process, organisations substantially representative of employers and employees come together to agree a way forward and submissions are sought from key stakeholders. While my Department would have no direct role in the SEO process, as a significant funder, and with policy responsibility for quality, it would be well placed to make a submission to the court once it publishes its notice on the application for a SEO for the sector.

In the interim, the last three budgets have increased investment in early years by some 87%. This has helped us to address affordability, access and quality, although I recognise that there is more to be done. This year's announcement of a 7% increase in ECCE capitation is intended to support the workforce. The €18 million in 2017 to support "non-contact time", or the administration burden associated with the scheme, is also intended to support providers and their employees.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am sure that she is aware, from being out and about in various constituencies, that the bottom line is that child care workers find themselves in untenable positions due to the issue of income versus expenditure and the administrative costs and burdens incurred as part of delivering the affordable child care scheme. We recognise the immense contribution that child care workers are making within Irish society in caring for children. However, we need to invest more heavily in the child care sector. We need more investment for the child care workers and for parents who are under immense strain. Child care can cost families anything up to €1,000 a month. It is a huge extra burden on parents. We are not in a position to deliver on the affordable child care scheme, as we had hoped. ICT seems to be a huge burden on the child care workers and those who administer it. We have 9,000 families who are going to miss out on that scheme as a result of subsidies not being made available. Can the Minister comment on that?

Of course I agree with the Deputy's initial points. I have done a huge amount in terms of trying to identify, with the limited resources available to me, and I got more than others in this budget, where the resources should be applied. I have also indicated that investment into the early years sector in general has increased over the years. I am not disagreeing with the Deputy's point that more investment is required. I understand that. The two main measures that I put forward this year focused on quality, hoping that the investment will get to the workers. In terms of ECCE capitation rates, we used some case studies. A small service with 11 children and a level 6 practitioner will see its income rise from €26,961 to €28,942. That is an increase of €1,881 into that service. An average service with 25 ECCE children with graduate room leaders will see its income rise from €71,250 to €76,237. That is an increase of €4,987. Those are just a couple of examples. I could provide other case studies. We carried out these scenario analyses to see how much more money could get into these different types of providers and services by increasing the capitation rate by 7%. It was directly intended to support the providers and, hopefully, the child care workers and professionals.

I appreciate where the Minister is coming from, but I must continue to dwell on the fact that we need to do more to help the child care providers.

I thank Deputy Anne Rabbitte who came to Cavan-Monaghan with me before the Dáil summer recess to meet those who were working at the coalface. Their experience has been one of hardship in the sense there are such high expectations of them from the Department, and while there is no harm in having high expectations, they are being pulled from Billy to Jack with the huge administrative burden in the sector. There is also the issue of the low salary that workers in the sector earn, the issue of continuous professional development for child care workers, the expectation they would have a level 8 qualification only to be paid the minimum wage and the issue of what career opportunities they will have in the years to come. There is no encouragement for young people coming through third level to go into this profession even though child care workers are badly needed. Access to child care facilities is a major issue for women wishing to return to work and it is important that they would have such a facility on their doorstep.

Those are many of the arguments I brought forward to the Minister for Finance to persuade and negotiate to get the increases that I got. Therefore, I am not at all in disagreement with the Deputy.

I appreciate that.

I expect and hope that the sector understands that. The measures I identified are trying to address those issues. I cited for the Deputy a couple of case studies in terms of the increase in capitation. As she is aware, I have also provided for a measure of ensuring two full years of entitlement to the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme and she might ask how will that help. When the ECCE scheme was originally extended from 38 weeks to 61 weeks, it gave the ECCE scheme providers the option of increasing their income by 60% if they had the space and capacity to expand. That is guaranteed State income, paid at intervals by Pobal. In terms of moving it to one entry level and increasing and extending the time of the entitlement of all children to a full two years, that increased income and profit margin also goes to the providers. There is more money going to the providers with that measure, as well it being one that hopefully provides more affordable child care for families.

I hope the Minister will stick to her commitment to come to Cavan to meet those child care workers that we talked about.

As Deputy Durkan is not here, Question No. 41 cannot be taken.

Question No. 41 replied to with Written Answers