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Pathways to Better Prospects: update on the IHREC Project

Pathways to Better Prospects: update on the IHREC Project

November 9, 2020

In 2019, Early Childhood Ireland was delighted to be one of 28 organisations that received a grant from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission’s (IHREC) Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme 2019. We successfully applied for funding under the theme “Decent Work” for our research project: “Pathways to better prospects: Delivering decent work, terms and conditions for early childhood workers.”

We developed a research tender to contract a suitably qualified researcher and Dr Michelle O’Sullivan was appointed to lead the study. Dr O’Sullivan’s expertise is primarily on the quality of work and precarious work with particular attention on public policy. The research team also included Dr Juliet McMahon, Dr Lorraine Ryan, Dr Jonathan Lavelle and Dr Caroline Murphy. The whole team works at the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the University of Limerick.

The report had three main aims: to map the various pathways to the professionalisation of other sectors in Ireland which have had success; to identify models of good practice, including internationally, to promote and advance the right to decent work within the early years sector; and finally, to identify strategies that can be applied to, or adapted for, the early years sector.  The methodology is based on a review of available evidence and information in Ireland and internationally.

The evidence on pathways towards professionalisation pursued by other occupations shows that strong activism through professional associations and trade unions, the pursuit of legal protection of the professional title, and support for research on role development are relevant measures. The international comparison of the situation of early years workers in 7 countries showed that most of them have experienced significant challenges with recruitment and retention due to poor pay and conditions. A key problem is that within countries, there are various pay-setting mechanisms, with varying levels of worker coverage.

Among other things, the authors conclude that improving work conditions in the sector is a shared responsibility of the government, providers and employees. Having appropriate public funding is central, but the public investment will not in of itself resolve recruitment and retention issues unless it is clearly ring-fenced for workers’ pay. Supporting institutions that will campaign for improvements in work conditions is also very important. The creation of some form of a wage-setting system is desirable but aiming for minimal improvements is unlikely to address the workforce retention problems. Working conditions, and not pay alone, are important for the recruitment of retention of ECEC staff. A state strategy for the development of the workforce should also include non-pay elements.

The report is very extensive and detailed, and here we are only providing a snapshot of some of the points raised by the authors. The online launch of the report will take place on December 1. A link to the event, along with the full publication and the executive summary, will soon be sent to all members of Early Childhood Ireland. A subsequent members-only evening event which will reflect on workforce issues and provide a space for debate will also take place. We will let members know about this soon.

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