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Exploitation of women workers not the answer to the childcare crisis

Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has today called the childcare crisis to be a red line issue in Programme for Government negotiations, and for the new government to increase and ring fence spending in early years care and education over the next five years to reach the optimum target of 1% GDP investment.

Orla O’Connor, Director of NWCI said,
“The exploitation of au pairs, as well as the low pay of childcare workers has been in the headlines this week, with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling that au pairs are workers, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions reporting that Childcare workers in State-funded schemes can earn as little as €5,700 a year. The work done by au pairs and childcare providers is essential to families, communities and the economy. Too often, this work is undervalued, underpaid or unpaid. We know that the Spanish au pair at the centre of the case last week is not an exception. We also know that many childcare workers are in low pay and insecure contracts, amid the increasing casualisation of the sector.”

Orla O’Connor continued,
“NWCI welcome the fact that a spotlight has again been shone on the childcare crisis in this country, but has cautioned that exploitation is not the solution. The WRC judgment last week leaves no room for ambiguity: au pairs are workers, and any family employing an au pair must abide by employment laws, including the Minimum Wage Act. The new government must ensure au pairs and families are fully aware of their rights and responsibilities. Alongside this, quality standards in childcare must include quality terms and conditions for workers. Significant improvements in pay and conditions for the mainly women childcare providers are central to the implementation any high quality model of early care and education.”

Orla O’Connor concluded,
“The chronic underinvestment in the public provision of early care and education must not be allowed to continue. Currently, the costs of childcare in Ireland remain amongst the highest in the OECD and in the EU with many Irish parents paying over 40% of their incomes on childcare. As the primary responsibility for childcare in Ireland continues to be placed on women, these high costs have had a devastating impact on gender equality in Ireland.  The optimum model for mothers and for children requires significant investment. 

Currently Ireland is spending between 0.2-0.4% of GDP which is significantly below the EU average of 0.7% and the UNICEF target of 1% of GDP. Delivery of this essential infrastructure must be a red line issue for the new government. This will require clear commitment to increase and ring fence spending over the next five years towards that 1% target. It is beyond time that our social and economic policies recognise the cost and contribution of care.”

For more information, please contact Sarah Clarkin, Communications Officer, 085 861 9087