An online petition calling on the Government to increase investment in the Early Years childcare sector was launched by the Big Start Campaign at an event outside Leinster House, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, this morning (Wednesday, 21st June). The Big Start Campaign includes SIPTU, Barnados, the National Childhood Network, the Union of Students of Ireland and ICTU. The Campaign is focused on securing an Early Years childcare sector which produces the best outcome for children, is affordable for parents, sustainable for providers and where workers have decent pay and conditions. SIPTU Sector Organiser, Darragh O’Connor, said: “There is clear international evidence that quality Early Years services must be underpinned by decent pay and conditions for qualified staff. However, Ireland spends less that than half the UNICEF international benchmark of 1% of GDP on the Early Years childcare sector. This means qualified childcare professionals are, on average, only paid €10.27 per hour. This results in a very high turnover of staff as few see a long-term future in the sector.” Barnardos Head of Advocacy, June Tinsley, said: “Investing in Early Years childcare and education must remain a political priority in Budget 2018. The full rollout of the Single Affordable Childcare Programme must be achieved and expanded upon. A focus must also be placed on enhancing the quality of service provision across the country through supporting appropriately trained staff and the inclusion of childminders and afterschool providers within Government programmes.” ICTU General Secretary, Patricia King, said: “The current childcare model is a double injustice for union members. In the absence of sufficient public investment, workers are paying too much for childcare which is placing massive financial strain on household budgets, while at the same time union members in the Early Years sector face the injustice of low paid precarious work." SIPTU Activist and Early Years worker, Debbie Nightingale, said: “Qualified educators want to deliver quality care and education for children but they are struggling to make ends meet.” CEO National Childhood Network, Denise McCormilla, said: “With the need to meet increasing responsibilities to support families and enhance children’s health, well-being, learning and development it is of critical importance that Government invests in the Early Years childcare workforce and ensures managers and staff are appropriately remunerated for the valuable work they carry out”.