SIPTU’s Big Start Campaign is Winning

SIPTU’s Big Start campaign is winning big for the early years education sector, workers and union. Below is a brief overview of the situation faced by the workers and the aims of this campaign. Also check out 

The struggle of childcare workers for recognition and decent pay will one of the key battle grounds in the fight for trade union rights in Ireland in the 21st century.

Capitalist economies have always depended on low-paid and under-valued work which is often done by women. Early Years Educators are a perfect example of this; thousands of qualified, dedicated professions who care for and educate the youngest children during the most crucial years of their development.

Despite the universal recognition of the importance of Early Years Education and childcare, people working in the sector are often paid little more than the minimum wage. Many are laid off during the summer months. The root cause of this is Ireland’s lack of proper investment into the sector -the lowest in the OECD.

Last year SIPTU brought together stakeholders in the sector such as Barnardos, the National Childhood Network, ICTU USI and others, and launched the Big Start campaign. The aim is to secure increased state investment to ensure quality, affordable childcare for all children, with decent pay for early years professionals.

The campaign is reaching out to employees in private and community sectors, but also owner-operators of private crèches, who themselves are often struggling to get by due to inadequate state support.

This campaign is also very important to the union movement’s strategic aims of organising workers in non-unionised sectors which are expected to grow in size in the coming decades. The government must recognise that only with decent terms and conditions will young people be attracted into these professions.

Union membership is steadily growing and educators are getting active. Local activist networks have been set up, with SIPTU members lobbying their local politicians and gathering petition signatures from parents. Social media has been a key tool for keeping people engaged.

Ultimately our strategy involves two parts: a political campaign to persuade the government to increase investment in the sector, and an organising drive to increase union density and secure a Sectoral Employment Order for the sector.

Bringing together allied organisations like Barnardos and the National Childhood Network has been a key part of the political campaign, while SIPTU organisers and activists across the country have been talking to the educators themselves and convincing them that through a Union they can change their situation.

Important progress has been made. In July the Dáil unanimously endorsed a Sinn Féin motion calling for recognition, investment and professional pay. Many local councils have passed motions in support, and even the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone has endorsed the unionisation of the sector.

But only Early Years Educators themselves can secure a victory, by recognising their collective power in a union and demanding the recognition they deserve.