A delegation from the SIPTU Big Start Campaign attended a meeting of Mayo County Council last week to inform councillors of the problems and growing crisis within the early years education sector. Thirty councillors heard from early years educators within their local communities how services are struggling and workers are demoralised. There were 13 early years professionals present in the gallery.
Elaine Malone, a manager at Aughagower Community Childcare in Westport, spoke of the daily struggles faced in the sector. She told the meeting: “We do not feel valued or recognised as a sector. The Department of Education and Skills are now inspecting pre-schools and this is welcomed, they recognise us as early years educators, otherwise they would not feel the need to inspect us, however our salaries do not reflect this recognition.”
According to Ms Malone workers in both private and community services in the sector get paid for the 38 weeks of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE ) term and are then made redundant.
Ms Malone said: “It is very degrading to sign on the dole every summer, despite doing a qualified professional job for 38 weeks and attending workshops for continuous professional development. We feel burned out, underappreciated, and undervalued. The sector is at breaking point, we are giving and giving and there is not much left to give. All we are asking for is more investment in high quality care and education for our children and a decent wage for the workers that are providing it. I was deflated myself, as were my colleagues, until I became involved in the SIPTU Big Start Campaign, it has given me a belief that change can happen.”
SIPTU organiser and co-ordinator of the Big Start Campaign in Mayo, Ann O’Reilly, outlined the current crisis within the sector. She said: “With pay so low for these qualified professionals, retaining staff in the sector is a major concern. A high turnover of staff has a huge impact on the quality of education and care provided." Ms O'Reilly raised the fact that the sector has a predominantly female workforce and called for the exploitation of this workforce to end. She added: “The Government is pushing the quality agenda, however if they expect quality then they need to address pay. It is time that the Government recognised the value of these workers to society.”
The Big Start Campaign requested that councillors visit and engage with childcare services within their communities and subsequently raise their issues with local TDs. They also requested that the councillors make contact with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone to highlight the crisis within the sector. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from the councillors to the early years educators. Many stated that they were unaware of the precarious state of the sector and the conditions of the professionals working in it. Councillors pledged their support and encouragement for the aims of the Big Start Campaign.