On Friday 5 February, childcare practitioners took to social media, donning bright red outfits and holding home-made signs, in an effort to raise awareness of the ongoing problems within the childcare sector.
As it stands, many workers earn below the living wage and often have to deal with poor working conditions, while parents are forced to pay expensive rates for the service.
The virtual day of action, which was organised by SIPTU’s Big Start Ireland campaign, highlighted the key causes of these issues – a lack of state investment.
Currently, Ireland invests just 25% of the European average in the Early Years Education sector.
Caroline Cody Brennan, a childcare worker from Kilkenny, says she feels let down by the government.
“I really love what I do, but for the amount of work I do, to be making under the living wage, I think it’s unfair. You hear a lot of empty promises about the government investing more money and possibly giving us raises, but that seems to be all false promises,” she says.
She adds that while this is such a critical line of work, she feels like young people would not be encouraged to pursue careers in the field given the current issues.
“It’s definitely more like a vocation – you have to really care and be drawn to it. There’s obviously no way young people go into this line of work for the money.”
Eve Kavanagh, who is currently undergoing a Level 8 in Early Childhood Studies, says she feels quite disheartened by the issues highlighted last Friday.
“I’ve always loved working with children, so I knew I wanted to go into [childcare] as a career. But it’s really disheartening to think that even after completing college and putting all this time and money in, that I’ll probably make just above minimum wage. I know that’s the situation for a lot of people, but surely there’s something wrong there.
“It’s such an important job in the functioning of society, and young people just aren’t being encouraged to pursue a career in it.”
The virtual day of action came exactly one year after 30,000 practitioners marched in Dublin city to highlight the lack of government funding – but much has changed since then. As the Covid-19 situation unfolded, so did new issues in this sector.
Currently, childcare workers are in line to be vaccinated alongside teachers in group 11 of the government’s vaccine rollout plan.
But practitioners are now asking to be vaccinated with key workers, who fall under group six of the rollout.
A survey conducted by Amárach Research revealed that 82% of Irish adults believe childcare professionals should be vaccinated along with key workers.
Caroline and her co-workers think it is essential that childcare practitioners receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
“You see so much about primary and secondary school teachers and the urgency of vaccinating them, but it’s like people forget about childcare workers. We are in much closer proximity to the children, pre-school kids and babies can’t socially distance and they sure as hell can’t wear masks. Because of this, it really can make the workplace a scary place to be at times.
“I absolutely think we should be vaccinated along with all other key workers. We have been key workers throughout this entire pandemic. It’s not just going to protect us, it’s for the children and their families too.”
On 11 February, Big Start Ireland released an open letter to Minister Stephen Donnelly, requesting childcare workers be recognised as key workers. Diane Jackson, SIPTU organiser, wrote:
“Our members are at work despite the risk to themselves and their families, they are making an enormous sacrifice on behalf of society in the provision of what is a key service. There is a great deal of fear and anxiety amongst the workforce which has existed ever since services first reopened. We are asking that the case of this workforce is recognised.”
There has been no response as of yet about moving childcare practitioners forward for the Covid vaccine.