Trade Unions launch Childcare Policy Paper: Care, Cost and Gender Equality

10 Jun 2019

Policy paper cover (2)

‘We need to start looking at investment in childcare as a vital form of infrastructure, as important for the economy as investment in construction or roads’ Owen Reidy, Assistant General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

 

More families in Northern Ireland are paying for childcare and are having to use more of it. At the same time, public expenditure is disproportionately aimed at funding childcare through social transfers, in particular Tax Credits. We need to rebalance public support for childcare for greater provision and less reliance on reimbursement.

 

Speaking ahead of the launch of Childcare in Northern Ireland: Care, Cost and Gender Equality, the first in a series of policy papers under the NIC ICTU campaign Better Work Better Lives, ICTU Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy said:

 

“Important challenges remain in relation to equality in the labour market. Enduring issues such as lower levels of female participation in the workforce, more women working part time, the gender pay gap as well as an inadequate framework for paid parental leave have many implications. One key lever, is to seek to address the childcare challenges families face.

 

Childcare in Northern Ireland is a policy issue that needs careful and comprehensive consideration. More households in Northern Ireland are paying for childcare and are having to use more of it. At the same time, public expenditure is disproportionately aimed at funding childcare through social transfers, in particular Tax Credits. We need to rebalance public support for childcare for greater provision and less reliance on reimbursement.

 

Increasing women’s access to decent employment should be a key policy aim of a comprehensive childcare system.  At the same time, consideration must also be directed towards supporting parents through increased rights to paid parental leave and flexible working. 

 

The current childcare workforce is characterised by low pay and little or no career progression. The workforce is also almost entirely female. While greater access to childcare can improve the prospects of many women workers, this should not be at the expense of workers in the childcare sector. We must therefore ensure that as we improve the support for childcare provision, we also improve the quality of childcare jobs. 

 

Through our engagement with a wide range of stakeholders including political parties and our involvement in civic society campaigns such as the Childcare for All campaign, we will seek to chart a better way forward for mothers, families, children and childcare workers.

 

What is crucial is that we do not have this debate in a vacuum that is why a formal and representative Forum for Social Dialogue for Northern Ireland is so urgently needed. We want to build a consensus and strongly believe that we and others have an important part to play in this debate and in how this region organises its economy and society.”

 

NOTE: Childcare in Northern Ireland: Care, Cost and Gender Equality is the first in a series of policy papers under the NIC ICTU campaign Better Work Better Lives. The campaign represents the coming together of 23 unions within Northern Ireland which represent the hopes and interests of over 200,000 workers. The policy paper is a collaborative effort between trade union activists and economists from the Nevin Economic Research Institute.

 

The aim of the campaign is to build a consensus within Northern Ireland for a Representative Forum for Social Dialogue for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has perhaps the least developed social dialogue in Europe and we believe this has been a contributing factor that has held back progress in a range of areas. Social Dialogue is essentially a process whereby those who represent the interests of workers, business (and sometimes others) can come together and engage with government in a structured and coherent way to seek to develop policies that can improve our society and economy. We believe that we need to challenge in particular:

1.  The scourge and prevalence of low pay and the ever-growing trend of indecent work;

2.  The declining rate of public investment in our public services;

3.  The counterproductive 1% pay cap which has been foisted on our public servants who have been expected to deliver more with less.  

To address these critical issues we need a process and a forum where we can engage with government and where we can present, discuss and debate policy choices.