Some 56 of around 4,500 childcare service providers have indicated their intention to close next week for a protest over the levels of Government funding to the sector, according to the Department of Children.
That figure amounts to just over 1 per cent of the total number of facilities in the State.
A spokesperson for the Department said they could not confirm the precise number of providers expected to participate in the protest, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and includes a public demonstration outside the Dáil on the first day. The suggestion, however, was that few providers are expected to close.
The Federation of Early Childhood Providers (FECP), which says it represents more than 1,000 providers, says the low figure is due to its members having decided not to provide the notification required of them as part of the protest. The organisation’s chair, Elaine Dunne, said on Thursday: “I think they are going to be surprised when they see the numbers on the street.”
Ms Dunne says the action is necessary because of ongoing closures in the sector due to non-viability because of current levels of Government support, and a fees freeze required of the more than 90 per cent of providers participating in the scheme.
The department again rejected the numbers she has cited on Thursday and said the latest figures, to the end of August, showed the closure of 38 Early Learning and Care (ELC) services, a figure it said represented a five-year low.
When School Age Childcare was factored in, it said, there had been a net increase of 88 in the overall service providers this year.
Of the 92 ELC services that had closed this year, 76 had given reasons. It said that, of these, 20 pointed to viability with a further 12 each pointing to expired rental agreements and a reduction in child numbers.
Siptu, meanwhile, has criticised a Labour Court recommendation for an increase to the minimum rates paid in the sector of 5 per cent, from €13 an hour to €13.65 for the lowest paid educators with equivalent increases for higher grades. It had sought increases of around 15 per cent while the employers had offered roughly 3.5 per cent.
The recommendation is to be voted by representatives of operators and workers at a meeting of the Joint Labour Committee on Monday. The union has said it will vote against the recommendation which may still be passed and put out for public consultation.
Siptu’s Darragh O’Connor said the Government’s funding included €160 million specifically intended to help raise pay rates in the sector but these resources were not adequately reflected either in current rates or the employers’ latest offer.
The Department’s figures indicate around a third of the total, €55 million, was required to fund the increases made to minimum rates last year. While many providers pay above these minimum rates, the union argues that a higher proportion of the fund should be devoted to raising base pay.