A key priority for me as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is seeking to ensure high quality early learning and care services for children, which includes having a valued and stable workforce.
It is part of the reason I have fought so hard for increased investment. I have pushed for investment to address affordability and access for parents, but also quality for children and the 26,000 staff working in centred based childcare.
Current pay rates, and the availability of only part-time / part-year contracts for many who work in the sector, do not reflect the level of responsibility that early learning and care professionals hold, nor the value of their work. We have a long way to go to rectify this situation, but I can assure the Deputy that I am doing everything in my power.
As the State is not the employer, I cannot set wage levels or determine working conditions. I have instead 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. This strategy 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 earlier this week. First 5 also commits to develop a new funding model for the sector, which may open up new mechanisms to influence pay and conditions.