The SIPTU Big Start Campaign is calling for a radical new approach to childcare funding to address the affordability and staffing crisis in the sector. Speaking in response to a report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the state agency, Pobal, on childcare costs, SIPTU Sector Organiser Darragh O’Connor said: “The ESRI report clearly details the depth of the affordability crisis. Women, particularly those from lower income households are being shut out of the workforce. However, we also have a staffing crisis with low wages driving qualified professionals from the sector. According to the report, the average rate of pay for a qualified early years education is just €10.88 per hour. Thousands are also on precarious 15 hour, 38 week contracts. “The Government spends well below the OECD average on childcare but simply increasing subsidies will not guarantee a reduction in fees for parents. We need a radical new approach to childcare funding in order to reduce parental fees and increase quality.” Ireland currently invests just 0.2 per cent of gross domestic product in childcare. This is far behind the OECD average of 0.7 per cent and the Unicef target of 1 per cent, he said. SIPTU economist Marie Sherlock also welcomed the report and the very important insight it provides on female participation in the workplace. “With the benefit of a unique ‘Growing up in Ireland’ dataset, the ESRI is able to estimate the labour market decision that mothers make in response to the cost of childcare. This must be a wake up call to Government. Lower female labour market participation and fewer hours have far reaching implications for our economy. It affects the gender pay gap as we know female labour market participation tends to drop off after 30 which coincides with female’s peak fertility years.   “With regard to wages, we know from decades of research from here and abroad that a big wages gap opens up between males and females between their 30’s and 40’s as women working part time (defined by the CSO as fewer hours than the standard working week) can become institutionalised into low pay and experience lower access to pay increases, promotions and lower job mobility. “The Government claims to be serious about reducing the gender pay disparity; mandatory reporting legislation alone will do not close the gap. Ensuring women are not forced to exit the labour market or forced to reduce their hours because of motherhood and caring duties must play a part.”