Valuing Care Work

This resulted in care work being viewed as women’s work, that care is something women are innately suited to writes SIPTU member and Big Start activist Aisling Silke.

SIPTU member and Big Start activist Aisling Silke

As women began to enter the workforce, care services began to emerge and care became a simple commodity that could be paid for with little or no thought. Irish society developed little understanding of and interest in care, devaluing care work whether unpaid and within the home or paid for in the rapidly growing services.

Devaluation is not only expressed in the low status attached to such work but also in material terms; low qualifications expected from the workforce, poor pay and conditions. 60% of childcare workers in Ireland today earn less than the Living Wage. Wages and working conditions are no better for those who pursue a career in elder care or community care.

To add a further complexity to society’s view of care, in our drive for gender equality the traditional occupations relating to care remained undervalued as women pursued other professions offering higher status and better pay. There was no drive to promote the value of care work or the valuable role of the carer.

Today we have a situation where we are providing care in a society that refuses to value care.

As a society, we need to re-evaluate our understanding of care.

I would like to ask you all to take a moment and visualise your loved ones — the most important people in your life — as you visualise them think if they needed care, who do you want to care for them and what type of care do you want for them?

I know when I think about my loved ones and their care all I want is the absolute best for them. I did everything I could to ensure my children received the best care and education so that they can reach their potential. The same applied as I cared for my parents in law during their final years. Only carers who were attentive, responsible, competent and responsive were going to be allowed to care for my loved ones, no matter what the cost and it did have a huge financial burden on me and my family as high quality care for my children and parents in law impacted on my ability to work full-time.

Care impacts not only on the individual but on families, communities, organisations and society. It is time we moved away from viewing care as the responsibility of the individual. As a society we need to adopt an ‘Ethics of Care’ meaning care should be the concern of everyone, every institution and every agency.

As we move into a new decade we need and must begin to value care. As a union, SIPTU can do this by committing to embed the Working Women’s Charter 2020 into all our of policies and objectives.

I am an active and committed member of SIPTU’s Big Start Campaign where we are actively pursuing action 4 of the Charter i.e. to value and respect the 25,000 strong childcare workforce, 98% of whom are women. Our asks on the Big Start Campaign are that childcare be treated as a public service valued by the state and that the professional role of childcare workers is recognised through increased investment to secure better pay and conditions and collective bargaining rights.

In just 4 years, SIPTU and the Big Start Campaign have achieved more than I and my colleagues in the early years sector did in 20 years of advocacy. We used to look at Australia childcare workers and envy their activism, now they envy us. English activists have come to us asking for help and guidance with their campaign.

On the 5th of February 2020 we made history as the Big Start Campaign brought 30,000 people on to the streets of Dublin demanding our profession be valued and respected. Along with our #Stop67 pension age campaign, the childcare demonstration highlighted the power of SIPTU to drive societal and political change.

We know we are only at the beginning of our journey, however, with SIPTU behind us and the Working Women’s Charter guiding our way, we have for the first time, hope, and know that our day will come when the care we provide to the youngest citizens of our state will be valued and respected by all citizens of our state.

This article was written by SIPTU member and Big Start activist Aisling Silke.

Aisling is speaking at International Women’s Day in Liberty Hall and the launch SIPTU’s Working Women’s Charter 2020. The focus of Aisling’s speech is the importance of care in promoting gender equality in the workforce.



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Liberty (@SIPTU)

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