I am very aware that many early learning and care (ELC) and school-age childcare (SAC) services continue to report difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified staff. The most recent published data indicates that the staff turnover rate in the sector stood at 23% in 2019. This, though it was an improvement on the previous year, is too high, especially given the importance of consistency of care for young children. The Pobal Sector Profile for 2020 will be published in the coming weeks and will contain more up-to-date data on staffing issues. In addition, I have met with employee and employer representatives on a number of occasions and have listened to their concerns, including on staffing issues. Having examined the available data and reports from sector representatives, though I acknowledge the challenges in recruitment and retention I do not believe there is an imminent staffing crisis in the sector.
The key challenge to recruiting and retaining staff is the need for improvement in pay and working conditions for practitioners in ELC and SAC services. 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. 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.
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.