Childcare group says it cannot afford sick pay


THE CHILDCARE sector should be exempted from a Government proposal that employers pay the first four weeks of sick leave for absent employees, the main representative group for the pre-schools has said.

Early Childhood Ireland says more than half of all pre-schools and creches could close if the plan, announced by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, is implemented. A survey published by the group this morning indicates 97 per cent of creches and pre-schools could not afford to make such payments.

Ms Burton has proposed shifting responsibility for paying sick pay from the State to employers for the first four weeks of absence. Employers would have to pay €188 per week.

Employers’ groups have criticised the idea and a consultation process is under way, with a final decision likely before December’s budget.

“Over half the pre-school and day-care respondents from around the country said they would have to close down their service if they were required to pay the first month’s sick pay for absent staff,” says the survey.

Irene Gunning, the chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland, said there were particular issues with the sick-pay plan that especially affected the childcare sector.

“This is a working environment around small children, who pick up every bug going and by definition the adults working with them pick up the bugs. There is more sick leave in this sector than in others,” she said.

“Then the regulations, quite rightly, insist on a very particular staff-to-child ratio. If someone goes out sick, you can’t just say we’ll get that work done when they get back, or we’ll all rally around and work harder while they’re out. You have to get someone else in. It really is a double whammy.”

The survey finds 42 per cent of services would have to increase fees to stay afloat if the proposal is implemented, while others said staff wages would be cut. “There are particular issues for the sector. The money isn’t in the sector to absorb this,” said Ms Gunning.

The bulk of the 400 respondents to the survey were small businesses employing fewer than 10 people.