The early learning and care sector has been identified as a sector in which low pay and poor working conditions for staff are common, which impacts on the quality of provision through its effect on the recruitment and retention of qualified staff. The lack of consistency of care together with high staff turnover impact directly on quality, while low wages are a constraint on plans to upskill the workforce. My support for improved pay and conditions for early learning and care professionals has been explicit, as their role is critical to supporting children’s development.
Over the past 4 budgets the level of public investment in early learning and care and school-age childcare services has increased 117%, and the level of investment needs to continue rising if we are to secure services that are of high quality, affordable and accessible. However, increased investment by itself will not ensure that 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. My Department will readily co-operate with such a 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 for service providers to offer staff 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 which will ensure appropriate levels of early learning and care and school-age childcare staff at all levels in the sector. The Workforce Development Plan will establish role profiles, career pathways, qualifications requirements, and associated policy mechanisms. It will set out plans to raise the profile of careers in the sector, establishing a career framework and leadership development opportunities, and it will work towards a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce.