SIPTU representatives will tell the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, today (Tuesday, 5th October) that the pay crisis for childcare professionals, if not adequately addressed in Budget 2022, will lead to many leaving the sector. SIPTU Head of Strategic Organising and Campaigns, Darragh O’Connor, said: “The pandemic has highlighted just how crucial Early Years services are to children, families and the wider economy. Early Years professionals worked on the frontline during the pandemic caring for, and educating, the children of other essential workers, as well as vulnerable children. We could not ‘reopen’ society without reopening Early Years services. “However, the sector is experiencing a staffing crisis which is driven by low pay and under funding. Early Years educators, who constitute 55% of all staff working with children, earn just €11.91 per hour on average, which is 99 cent below the ‘living wage’ for Ireland in 2021. Managers and owner managers, who shoulder enormous responsibilities, earn on average just €15.28 per hour. Basic conditions like maternity pay, sick pay or a pension are rare.”  He added: “Too many workers in the Early Years sector are forced to choose between poverty pay, retraining for a different career, or emigrating to a country that properly values qualified and dedicated Early Years professionals. Simply put, the sector needs hope in Budget 2022. The alternative is a mass exodus that none of us can afford.” Early Years professional and SIPTU activist, Deborah Reynolds, said: “The new Joint Labour Committee for Early Years, established by the Government this year, together with the introduction of a new funding model, will allow for a significant increase in state investment for the sector. It can deliver a path to professional pay for staff, improve affordability for parents and address the staffing crisis for services. Professionals, providers, parents, and children need a new deal for Early Years. We need a system that will attract and retain skilled and qualified educators, reduce fees for parents, support quality for children and ensure service sustainability.”  The presentation of the SIPTU submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will be available to view here at 3.00 p.m. today.