I am very conscious need for significant improvement in pay and working conditions for practitioners in early learning and care and school-age childcare services. I also accept that the level of pay they receive does not reflect the value of the work they do for children, for families and for the wider society and economy. It also contributes to challenges of recruitment and retention of staff, which are key to the consistency of care provided to children. The most recent published data indicates that the average hourly wage in the sector was €12.55 in mid-2019.
As the State is not the employer, my Department does not set wage levels nor determine working conditions for staff working in the sector. My Department has, however, over a number of years provided a range of supports to service providers to enable them to improve wages and working conditions. However, wages in the sector remain too low. Given the importance of the issue, it is imperative that my Department continues to engage with provider and staff representatives.
The Programme for Government contains a commitment to “support the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee in the childcare sector and the drawing up of an Employment Regulation Order, which would determine minimum rates of pay for childcare workers, as well as terms and conditions of employment”.
To progress this commitment, in December 2020, working in partnership with SIPTU and CSI/IBEC, I began a short process in which interested parties were invited to discuss how best to address issues of pay and conditions in the sector and how a Joint Labour Committee might support this. Dr Kevin Duffy, former Chair of the Labour Court, chaired the meetings, which concluded in the last few days. Dr Duffy will shortly submit to me a report outlining the issues and possible solutions raised in the process, and making a recommendation on next steps. I am hopeful that implementation of his recommendations will support progress in addressing pay and conditions in the sector.