Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) is in crisis. Providers and professionals are stressed out, struggle to make ends meet and leaving the sector. More and more providers are seeing a Sectoral Employment Order as the only way to solve one of the biggest issues; increased government funding to improve pay and conditions.
Low pay is a big problem for providers and professionals. Early Years Educators earn on average just €11.46 per hour; 61% earn below the Living Wage of €12.30. This has led to a recruitment and retention crisis that is undermining the sustainability of services.
Clearly Early Years needs a pay rise, but who pays?
Only the state can make the investment needed to significantly improve pay and conditions; parents and providers simply don’t have the money.
The government knows this, that’s why in Budget 2020 they set up the ‘Sustainability and Sectoral Employment Order Fund’ to help providers increase pay.
However, before providers can access this fund, government need a guarantee that it will be used to increase wages.
A Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) is that guarantee.
What is an SEO?
A Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) is a mechanism to set minimum rates of pay and conditions for ECEC.
SIPTU can establish an SEO through the Labour Court when it is ‘substantially representative’. This means that 1/3 of all Early Years Educators need to be members of SIPTU before rates of pay can be introduced.
This is the reason that Minister Zappone said that ‘if I were a childcare worker, I would join a union’.
Without an SEO in place, her Department cannot fund pay increases.
What about Providers?
Any increase in pay must be affordable for providers. This is why SIPTU is clear that the SEO must be linked to government funding.
Indeed, by law the SEO must promote harmonious relations between employers and employees, assist in avoiding disputes and take into account any potential impact on employment.
Some providers will need funding to pay a Living Wage; all providers will need substantial funding to pay professional pay scales.
Simply put, no increase in government funding = no SEO. No SEO = no government funding for pay.
What if I can’t afford the SEO?
The SEO will not happen without adequate funding from government. But there are still three key protections for providers.
1. If a provider cannot afford the SEO rates of pay, they can seek an exemption; it’s the law.
2. The rates of pay set by the SEO will have to be affordable for providers; it’s the law.
3. SIPTU will not apply for an SEO until the funding has been secured. If providers cannot afford pay increases, Early Years professionals will not get pay increases.
So What’s Next?
Already thousands have joined SIPTU, but we need to grow our union to achieve an SEO and the necessary funding. You can join here.
We are asking leaders in the Early Years Sector to work with local SIPTU organisers to achieve this.
All stakeholders should also engage with the DCYA on the best way to deliver extra funding to services before the SEO is introduced.