I am very conscious of the need for a significant improvement in pay and working conditions in early learning and childcare sector. In 2020, average pay in this sector was €12.45 per hour. This level of pay does not reflect the value of the work done for children, for families and for the wider society and economy.
However, as the Deputy knows, the State is not the employer and therefore I cannot determine wages in the sector. That said, I am committed to doing what is in my power.
My Department has over a number of years provided a range of financial supports to service providers in the sector to support them to improve pay and conditions. Measures, which are still in place, include higher rates of capitation payments to services with graduate room leaders in the ECCE programme, and to services employing qualified Inclusion Coordinators.
The process I began last December, which examined the possibility of regulating pay and conditions and the suitability of a Joint Labour Committee for the sector, culminated in the establishment of a Joint Labour Committee in June this year and members of this Committee have been recently appointed by the Labour Court.
Supported by the new Core Funding stream I announced as part Budget 2022, there is now a real prospect of an improvement in pay rates in the sector through this Committee.
As well as supporting improvements in pay, the scale of allocation under the new Core Funding stream - which is €69m in 2022 and equivalent to more than €207 million in a full year - will also enable providers to introduce or improve other working conditions, including non-contact time.
In addition, I will shortly publish the Workforce Plan for the sector, which covers the period 2022-2028 and aims to achieve workforce-related commitments set out in First 5, including commitments to: achieve a graduate-led workforce by 2028; strengthen Continuing Professional Development; raise the profile of careers in the sector; and establish a career framework and leadership development opportunities.
The Workforce Plan has been developed in parallel with the work of the Expert Group on the Funding Model, and commitments in the Workforce Plan are expected to complement the development of the Core Funding stream that was committed to in Budget 2022.