As the State is not the employer, my Department does not pay the wages of staff working in early learning and care settings, and I cannot set wage levels or determine working conditions for these staff. Staff are either employed by private or community-based organisations or are self-employed sole traders.
Low pay and poor working conditions in the sector are a priority concern for me, given the importance for child outcomes of recruiting and retaining qualified staff and upskilling the workforce, and given the need to recognise the value of the work that is carried out by early learning and care professionals.
I am doing all that is in my power to improve wages and working conditions in the sector. I have repeatedly called for the sector to pursue a Sectoral Employment Order, which offers a viable mechanism to establish appropriate wage levels. My Department will readily co-operate with such a process when it is underway.
In the interim, I have introduced a range of measures to support employers to improve pay and conditions. These include a 7% increase in ECCE capitation in 2018; higher capitation payments for graduates and Inclusion Coordinators; annual Programme Support Payments to recognise administrative demands; support for School-Age Childcare which will make it easier to offer full-time employment contracts; and a pilot measure to fund participation in CPD.
I have set out my vision for the sector, and a roadmap to achieve it, in First 5. First 5 commits to a Workforce Development Plan, to raise the profile of careers in the sector and to ensure sufficient numbers of staff at all levels. The Steering Group for the Workforce Development Plan met for the first time on 30th May, and the Stakeholder Group held its first meeting on 9th July. First 5 also commits to develop a new funding model for the sector, which may open up new mechanisms to influence pay and conditions.