Concerns have been raised that some childcare workers were “thrown under the bus” and laid off last month by employers who still had State subsidies in their bank accounts.
A document released by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs this week states that the Department of Social Protection "reported that very significant numbers of [childcare] staff presented to Intreo offices from March 12 indicating that DCYA funding was not being used to retain staff in all cases".
The department provides more than €600 million a year for early childcare schemes, much of which is paid to operators of creches by way of schemes like the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). In addition to that income, parental fees worth about €12 million a month are paid to creches, it is believed.
The suggestion that childcare services immediately laid off staff before their allocation of subsidies was exhausted has drawn criticism from the Opposition. Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on Children and Youth Affairs Anne Rabbitte said she had been approached by childcare workers in distress who had been fired as soon as the closure order on creches was served on March 12th.
“The majority of services have acted honourably, of that I’m sure. There is a minority of providers though that I’m concerned about as it seems the staff were thrown under the bus. Even providers have told me this. Nobody wants to see staff treated poorly.”
She said the statement by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which is included in a Q&A document on the Government’s emergency childcare scheme, “clearly suggests that there was enough funding there for the two weeks but it wasn’t being passed on and this is disappointing to see”.
Darragh O'Connor, head of organising with trade union Siptu, said that while the scale of the issue wasn't known, "there is evidence that certain providers put the interest of their business ahead of staff and parents. This highlights once again the major problems with how childcare is funded."
Frances Byrne, head of policy and advocacy with Early Childhood Ireland, an advocacy group for the sector, said it had heard from "hundreds of providers on March 12th and 13th, and the week afterwards, whose number one priority was keeping staff and managing the next few weeks. The vast majority did that."
She said other childcare providers may have panicked, and laid off staff in the anticipation that they would be able to avail of social welfare payments in 10 days’ time. “The majority of the sector have done the right thing, but certainly we heard from a couple of hundred who panicked and didn’t think their decisions through.
“Some people didn’t act honourably; some panicked, some didn’t think, I totally accept that,” she said.
The Government has approved a special rescue package for the childcare sector, which will see the State paying 100 per cent of most wages in the sector in exchange for a commitment from owners that parents will not be charged and children will be guaranteed their places once the Covid-19 crisis eases.
While most creche groups have welcomed the scheme, some have complained that it will result in cashflow issues.