Furious, feeling abandoned and many under threat of closure, early years providers’ owners and staff showed their anger at Minister Roderic O’Gorman and the government on Tuesday last, with a sizable visual and vocal protest outside Dáil Eireann.
Protestors expressed their angst as they struggle to keep their businesses viable, claiming government funding is totally insufficient. The sector planned a three-day effective strike from Tuesday to Thursday this week, with at least 64 creche facilities closing for the period. Despite many parents finding it difficult to source childminders for the duration, many turned out to show their support for the cash-strapped businesses.
For Lynsey McCabe, proprietor of Bright Sparks Montessori, there are many issues to the current crisis.
“Firstly, ECCE funding is far too low – at €69, it barely covers costs and has only been raised €5 since 2010 – it doesn’t come near inflation costs! ECCE capitation needs to be €100 to keep businesses viable,” she said. “Since the introduction of core funding by Minister O’Gorman, the duplication in applications and over-administration is burning providers out. Minister O’Gorman should streamline the administration and inspection bodies, we have more regulatory bodies than a hospital, it’s ridiculous!”
But she also felt seriously aggrieved by the removal of the word ‘educator’ from the sector’s title.
“We are degree-qualified professionals, educators who have achieved a four-year degree and more, yet now we are deemed as ‘carers’ only? It is demoralising and demeaning, we should be treated the same as primary school teachers.”
She maintained that staff retention is impossible as creche staff are only paid for 10 months of the year, plus they are not paid for set up time or clean up outside their shifts.
“They have no sick pay, no maternity cover, no chance of getting loans or mortgages on these types of contracts. The Minister should implement a contract whereby staff don’t have to sign on over the summer and mid-terms, that they are covered for sick leave and maternity. “
The Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP) organised this week’s action and claimed that many early years providers would be closing their doors for good because the government’s funding process has rendered them unviable. Despite the massive turnout for the protests on Tuesday last, Minister O’Gorman stated the protests were unwarranted and that the Department of Children had invested more than ever in the sector.
Fiona Bowe who runs Cherry Blossom Montessori in Castleknock says the core funding just doesn’t work as well as the ECCE only model which offered parents two years free preschool.
“Since core funding was introduced, it has left us on the back foot. We expanded, took in a total of over 70 children, offering after-school care to three schools. It’s a disaster, our options are to pull out of core funding but if we do that, and I privatise my services, families who are currently living in emergency accommodation in the Travelodge, what will happen to those children? They will not be able to avail of private childcare.”
While acknowledging the funding invested in the industry, Ms Bowe said Minister O’Gorman is not listening to the sector leaders, and not reaching out to the smaller services. “Funding is being eaten up in administration, the level of compliance is unwarranted.”
The Department of Children warned that service providers who close this week but have not given the required notice, could recieve a reduction in payments. SIPTU also appealed to childcare employers to resume pay talks.
But many protestors stated the issue lies in Minister O’Gorman’s hands and he must review the core funding system with relevance to the smaller facilities.
“Fifty two per cent has gone back into government agencies who oversee and regulate the industry,” said Ms McCabe. “We have asked the Minister for a breakdown of where the rest of the funding went – but have had no reply. Core funding assumes a ‘one size fits all’ approach which is leaving small providers in a financial deficit. A small school like ours with graduate teachers, used to receive an additional €13 per child per week, for our highly skilled professional team. That €13 has been removed and what’s been offered now doesn’t replace it. We shouldn’t have to sign up to yet another scheme to fill the deficit they’ve left us with!”
Other creche owners and staff at the protest said core funding will reduce in parents having less choice. Those who select smaller local providers can choose between the educational methods used, that is, Steiner, Montessori, preschool, playschool but as it’s only the large chains benefitting from core funding, the choice and options could be reduced as creches close.
ON Wednesday last, Ms McCabe and staff continued their protest at Bright Sparks Montessori in Malahide, as did many other facilities across Dublin. Day Three of the protest closures will see an end to the temporary strike but unless the crisis is addressed now, further protests seem imminent.
See full coverage in this week’s Dublin Gazette pick up a copy now free in supermarkets and outlets across Dublin.
Pictures Alison O’Hanlon