Early Years educators in Cork City and County are sending ‘Postcards from the Dole’ to local elected representatives and the Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, informing them that they have had to sign on for social welfare benefits due to their contracts of employment only providing them with 38 weeks paid work a year. The ‘Postcard from the Dole’ action by Early Years educators has been organised by the SIPTU Big Start Campaign, to highlight the precarious employment practices faced by workers in the sector.June Hamill, co-ordinator of the Before 5 Family Centre and a member of the SIPTU Early Years National Committee and Cork Early Years Alliance, said “As Early Years education services closed their doors last week, Early Years educators across the country found themselves left with no income for the next eight weeks. Under the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) operated by the Government, Early Years educators are only paid for 38 weeks a year.“This means that thousands of qualified professionals have to sign on the dole every summer. It also results in owner-operators of Early Years facilities being left without any income as they cannot avail of Job Seekers benefit.”She added: “We are dedicated, qualified professionals, but we are not being treated as such. As we are on low pay and are only provided with precarious 38-week a year contracts most Early Years educators are struggling to make ends meet. Normal activities for other workers such as getting a mortgage are an impossible dream for us.  “Workers in the Early Years sector are overwhelmingly women. Our roles, like those in many other caring professions, are under-valued, under-recognised and under-paid. All we want is to be recognised for the work that we do and to be fairly paid for it.”SIPTU Organiser and Big Start Campaign co-ordinator, Theresa Butler, said: “International research has indicated that quality Early Years education has real benefits for children, providing the scaffolding for achievement in later life. However, you cannot develop a quality Early Years sector when workers are on precarious contracts and are being forced onto the dole every summer. “We are calling on the Government and all political parties to commit to the UNICEF spending target of 1% of GDP on the Early Years sector so that we can provide children with the start in life that they deserve and ensure that those educating them in these formative years are recognised and paid a professional wage.”