A delegation of almost 100 Donegal early childhood educators and service providers joined over 2,500 of their colleagues for a national rally outside Dáil Éireann yesterday organised by the Association of Childcare Professionals.
The rally was organised to highlight the lack of investment and poor working conditions for those employed in the early childhood education sector.
At present, the Donegal early childhood 800 strong workforce are angry that although many of the workforce are qualified to degree level and with many years of experience, they earn as little as €18,000 per annum.
This is set against a backdrop of continually being asked to upskill whilst existing on low pay.
Avril McMonagle, Manager of Donegal County Childcare says that this not a new problem and has been effectively ignored for years so it is not surprising that the sector has finally said – no more.
“What seems to have caused the revolt now is that the early childhood workforce has faced ever increasing expectations in terms of training, regulations and compliance whilst this has not been matched with an increase in pay or any improvement in working conditions.”
One of the major drivers for discontent from the workforce is the conditions around providing the free pre-school year, which gives 15 hours’ care and education a week for 38 weeks to 2,300 three- and four-year-olds across Donegal.
The State only pays early childhood services for 15 hours of direct contact with children and the necessary time staff need for administration surrounding the role is unpaid.
However, as a requirement of regulations and to meet compliance, time for programme planning, observation and assessment, staff and parent meetings is necessary but go largely unpaid.
The pattern for years has been that the sector continually loses staff trained to graduate level as the sector is unappealing in terms of status, value and pay. Qualified personnel are constantly leaving the sector due to lack of professional pathways and equitable pay meaning that it is very difficult to build up a professional, experienced workforce which we need so badly to increase quality provision of early childhood care and education.
Avril added that multi dimensional reform to child and family policy is urgently required to tackle a variety of issues that stem from lack of significant investment in early childhood services.
“Interconnecting policies such as extended parental leave and tax relief to address costs for working parents, increased capitation rates for child places to make childcare services more sustainable and the implementation of the workforce development plan with a nationally agreed pay scale and working conditions to incentivise staff would both raise quality standards and afford parental choice.”