The most recent data, released last week, indicates that the average hourly pay in early learning and care and school-age childcare is now €12.55, a 3% increase on last year. Low pay and poor working conditions in the sector remain a serious concern and impact on the quality of provision to children through their effect on the recruitment and retention of qualified staff. The lack of consistency of care due to high staff turnover levels impacts directly on quality, and low wages are a constraint on plans to upskill the workforce. My support for improved pay and conditions for early learning and care practitioners has been explicit, as their role is critical to supporting children’s development and delivering better child outcomes.
Over the past 4 budgets the level of public investment in early learning and care and school-age childcare services has increased by 117%. The level of investment needs to continue to rise if we are to offer services that are of high quality, affordable and accessible. However, increased investment by itself will not ensure staff wages and conditions will improve.
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.
I am, however, 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. Under the terms of industrial relations legislation, for the process of establishing a Sectoral Employment Order to begin, the bodies starting the process must satisfy the Labour Court that they are "substantially representative" of either the workers or the employers in the sector. I can assure the Deputy that my Department will readily co-operate with a Sectoral Employment Order process when it is under way.
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, which contains a commitment to develop a Workforce Development Plan. This Plan, work on which began recently, will identify measures to ensure appropriate numbers of early learning and care and school-age childcare staff at all levels in the sector, to achieve a graduate-led workforce by 2028, and to raise the profile of careers in the sector. As part of this work, a series of public consultations will be carried out involving those working in the sector and other stakeholders. Plans for the consultation process will be finalised in the coming weeks. First 5 also commits to develop a new funding model for the sector, which may open up new mechanisms to influence pay and conditions in the sector.