The First Employment Regulation Orders for the Early Years and School Age Care Sector
The Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Damien English TD recently accepted an Employment Regulation Order (ERO) for staff in the early years and school age care sector. The ERO, which came into effect on 15 September 2022, will for the first time, set minimum wage scales across a range of roles for some 27,000 early years and school age professionals across Ireland.
Core Funding and the Employment Regulation Order (ERO)
The announcement of the government’s proposed ‘Core Funding’ with a full-year value of €221 million in last year’s budget signalled a long overdue but welcome response to address the decades of under-investment in our sector. This historic shift in the State’s attitude to the sector acknowledged the insufficient levels of investment that have led to a system with poor pay and conditions for staff, which in turn impacts on the provision of high-quality and affordable care and education to our youngest citizens.
Core Funding is part of the new Funding Model for the sector which will, as described by government, support the delivery of high-quality early years and school age care while providing sustainability for providers and staff. It is acknowledged by government that to achieve this, there is a need for greater State investment and Core Funding is the new funding stream set to bring about this much needed investment. Since its announcement, Core Funding has been exclusively linked to the Employment Regulation Orders, meaning that the additional funding to be made available through the funding stream, primarily to support staff wages in the sector, could not be released without the establishment of the ERO minimum wage scales. The formal acceptance of the ERO means that essential investment into the sector through Core Funding can commence in the coming weeks.
Quality for children and a valued workforce
The ERO supported by Core Funding is a historic first step towards improving the overall terms and conditions for the early years and school age care professionals. There is clear international evidence of the link between a valued, sustainable workforce and quality provision of EY and SAC for children.
Since last year’s budget, the Government has recognised that low pay and poor conditions experienced by staff, is the biggest issue affecting quality ELC and SAC in the sector. To ensure quality for all children, our invaluable early years educators and school-age childcare practitioners require pay and conditions that reflect the importance of the work they do.
The ERO, is the first step, to put the early years and the school age care sector in the much-needed journey of transformations address these long-standing challenges. However, the ERO must be followed by further funding in 2023 and beyond, so that these basic minimum scales can be increased. The government’s ‘Partnership for a Public Good’ report recommended that as well as incremental increases, significant investment in Core Funding would be necessary to ensure a sufficiently comprehensive package for providers to achieve the objectives of quality, affordability, and sustainability.
To achieve quality provision for all children, Core Funding must be met with continued government investment beginning with the forthcoming budget. It is essential that the Government sets out a trajectory of transformation by announcing a 5-year plan that will deliver quality for children. The plan should have clear annual funding targets and key priorities for each year, consistent with achieving a high quality, sustainable and affordable early years and school age care sector for every child in every family by 2028.
The plan for 2023 should include the following:
- An increase in Core Funding which takes account of both inflation and the agreed sector pay scales
- Increases in the National Childcare Scheme, encompassing universal and targeted subsidies and a national communications plan to promote the scheme to parents
- In consultation with Early Childhood Ireland’s members, and other stakeholders, an extension of the Access and Inclusion Model, beyond the ECCE scheme
- Implementation of the first phase of the National Childminding Action Plan and of Nurturing Skills – the sector’s workforce plan
Early Childhood Ireland will continue to monitor these issues for our sector in the lead-up to Budget 2023. You can read our Budget 2023 Submission and our Policy Team is available to answer questions.