Hundreds of childcare providers are planning to shut their facilities for a day in protest over what they describe as a “crisis” facing the sector.
An alliance of childcare workers and providers is due to meet on Thursday to finalise plans to close creches and pre-schools on a midweek day likely to be in late January or early February.
The planned action has the support of groups including the Federation of Childhood Providers, which says it has 1,000-plus members, and the trade union Siptu, which represents 5,000 early years professionals.
Other groups representing childcare providers and professionals are also due to attend.
Elaine Dunne of the Federation of Childhood Providers said underfunding of the sector had reached crisis point and was resulting in poorly-paid staff and unsustainable services.
She said there was “huge momentum” behind the planned day of action which had the backing of many providers, workers and parents.
When asked if the planned action could cause large-scale disruption for working parents, she said many mothers and fathers supported their actions and encouraged them to join in the demonstration.
"The reason they are paying the highest childcare fees in Europe is because of underfunding of the services."
She said many services were at risk of closing permanently if funding of the sector was not improved, which would leave parents even worse off.
Ms Dunne added the day of protest would be the first of a number of planned actions.
While other groups representing childcare facilities are supportive of the aims of the protest, it is understood they do not support shutting facilities mid-week. It is unclear how many facilities are likely to close, given divided opinion within the sector.
Regina Bushel of Seas Suas, which represents hundreds of childcare providers, said many services providing full day-care services – paid for by parents – may be reluctant to inconvenience parents who are paying for services.
Sessional services – such as those providing the “free” pre-school year – may be more likely to protest, she said.
“It isn’t an easy decision for full daycare providers to close for a day of protest - and this is part of the problem overall,” she said.
“ The sector is so diverse, between sessional care, small full day care and family-run services, where they have a lot of overheads and would find it difficult to close for the day.”
Details of the planned protest were discussed at a meeting at Liberty Hall last week organised by Siptu – which represents some 5,000 childcare workers.
It was attended by representatives of a number of different childcare providers.
Darragh O'Connor of Siptu said there was "considerable momentum" behind a day of protest, with many leaning towards holding it on weekday in late January. The details are due to be finalised at follow-up meeting at Liberty Hall on Thursday.
He said the meeting will also agree a common platform, such as the need to reform the funding model for childcare and higher wages for childcare facilities.
“The sector is coming together – providers and workers – because of the crisis in funding and low pay. It is undermining the quality and sustainability of services and people are struggling to make ends meet,” Mr O’Brien said.
It is likely that the Government would cease providing payment to childcare providers for the duration of any action which disrupts State-funded early years education.