Calls for the introduction of a pay scale and proper recognition as a highly qualified industry have been made by one Early Years educator in Clare.
Details of financial insecurity, poor working conditions and chronic stress were released following a survey into the professional life of Early Years Educators conducted by SIPTU at the end of 2020.
Findings state that 80 per cent of respondents cited financial insecurity as their main concern. A total of 76 per cent of educators are earning below the living wage of €12.30 per hour, with 44 per cent of Room Leaders falling under this category. Respondents noted being unable to cope with unexpected expenses, unable to save money and unable to get by with their salaries.
SIPTU member and practicing Early Years educator Claire Casey revealed, “This is leading to burnout and resentment. You start thinking why am I doing it. Children deserve more. If the early years teachers are leaving, it makes it difficult for children. These interactions are fundamental to their development and them feeling secure. Children don’t get to form that essential bond. Covid has shone a light on how vital a service we are.”
The government stated that by 2028 it wants 60 per cent of the workforce to be graduate led. Claire acknowledged that a degree and a minimum of three years work experience is required to begin working as an early year’s educator. Finishing her Level 8 in NUIG in 2019, she stressed that the highly educated industry is undervalued by the government and society as a whole.
“It’s difficult to retain people. The survey states that 93 per cent are looking to leave the sector in the next five years. It’s a sector that’s 98 per cent staffed by women. Maybe it’s seen by the government as a caring role, carrying less value. We are looked upon as babysitters but really, we are the first ones to notice if something is bothering the child. We have a closer relationship with parents than they do with primary teachers. We are their introduction into the education system and often provide a sanctuary for these kids,” she outlined.
An increase in government funding for the industry still leaves Early Years Education at 0.3% GDP, falling well below the OECD average of 0.8. Claire highlighted that this injection went into reduced pay for parents and the professionalisation of the workforce. Nothing went into the workers pockets, she added. Calls for the introduction of a Joint Labour Committee, which can set out standards in wages and conditions of employment across the sector, have been made. “The government wanted professionalisation. We obliged and now they are not willing to pay us for it.”
Representing SIPTU in the nationwide Big Start Campaign, Claire is calling on all practitioners to join the union and fight an industry that offers no progression, no pension and maternity leave to only 10 per cent of practitioners. SIPTU currently has 6,000 members out of a sector totalling 25,000.
“I know a lot of practitioners that have to sign on to jobseekers allowance for the summer, Christmas and even the winter between terms. People are developing awareness around it. Things aren’t right in our sector and things need to change. I am urging people to join their local union and speak up,” she concluded.