My support for improved pay and conditions for ELC practitioners has been explicit given their critical role in supporting children’s development and supporting families. Over the last 4 budgets an increase of 117% in investment has been provided towards this sector and First 5 commits includes a commitment to doubling that again over the next 10 years.
It needs to be noted however that Early Learning and Care services in Ireland are either privately run or are operated by community/not for profit services. The DCYA is not the operator of the service and is not the employer of the staff, but through a contractual arrangement provides a range of funding supports through capitation payments and other initiatives to support the sector. DCYA cannot set terms and conditions for staff.
This is why, I have actively encouraged the sector to seek a Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) to introduce better terms and conditions. This process must however be initiated by a grouping representing the sector. I understand that organisations requesting the commencement of such a process must show they have significant membership, but the relevant Trade Unions have not yet reached the thresholds required.
Building a skilled and sustainable Early Learning and Care (ELC) workforce is a key component of First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, which was led by DCYA and launched on the 19th of November 2018. First 5 highlights the valuable role of the early learning and care workforce and makes a number of commitments to develop it further. For example, it commits to publishing a Workforce Development Plan and the steering group to drive this work will hold its first meeting this month. Included on its agenda will be a grading structure for the sector, agreement of titles, and the establishment of a professional regulator. The Steering Group will be advised by a Stakeholder Group and via a national consultation with the sector and other stakeholders.
First 5 also includes a commitment to review the funding model for the ELC sector, under which employers would be supported to provide more favourable working conditions to attract and retain staff. The new funding model would complement a Sectoral Employment Order and existing Government funded early learning and care schemes by leveraging additional investment for certain criteria, for example, employers introducing better pay would receive greater investment.