Fears over impact on insurance on childcare scheme for health workers

‘Insurance would be too prohibitive. Nobody has come back to us saying they would be able to take it on’

Concerns are mounting among childcare providers over risks they may face if they take part in the Government’s new Covid-19 scheme for front-line health workers.

Representative organisations have reported subdued levels of interest in the scheme amid fears over the impact on insurance, as well as compliance with employment rights legislation.

However, it will be some days before there is clarity on the uptake of the scheme among childcare providers.

Marian Quinn, president of the Association of Childcare Providers (ACP), said her members were primarily concerned about the impact of the scheme on their insurance premium. The largest insurer of childcare settings has said it would not cover coronavirus-related claims, but there is also a fear among operators that health and safety claims could multiply due to care taking place in the home, leading to a rise in claims that could drive up premiums.

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Serious concerns

"We have had nobody who has indicated to us who would be willing to sign up given the serious concerns. Insurance would be too prohibitive. Nobody has come back to us saying they would be able to take it on," Ms Quinn said. At least 5,000 childcare workers are needed for the scheme to provide support to parents at the intended level.

A Department of Children and Youth Affairs spokesman said there had been "a steady stream of inquiries about the scheme".

“In these difficult and unprecedented times, when we are all being asked to play our part, the early learning and care and school-age childcare sector are ready to support essential health workers to enable them to continue their crucial work during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Ms Quinn said her group had sought clarity also from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on compliance with the Working Time Act, which regulates break times for employees. The advice was that employers still have to ensure breaks can be taken, which she said would be challenging when the care was being given by one employee in a healthcare worker's home.

Protected

“We contacted the WRC looking for confirmation in relation to provider responsibilities under the Working Time Act. They have advised us the employer’s responsibilty is to ensure staff get breaks as per the Act.” The ACP has asked for further clarification on whether staff can opt out of breaks.

“We’re trying to make sure our employers are protected to make sure they adhere to legal obligations and make sure the educators get their legal entitlement as employees,” she said.

Sources in the childcare sector, who administer Garda vetting, indicated there had been no upsurge in workers seeking to refresh their clearance, as is needed for working in a different setting. However, the same sources said it was too early to make a firm judgment on take-up of the scheme, and it would likely be early this week before a clear picture emerges.

The department said statistics on take-up were not available.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times