“I know one or two women… who probably don’t make very much money at all from working but they do it to keep their position on the career ladder, if you like. That’s a legitimate thing to do but if you can’t pay your mortgage as a result or you can’t buy your groceries as a result well then that’s something that needs to be taken into account in any insolvency arrangement.” This is the backward position of Minister Leo Varadkar commenting on upcoming insolvency legislation.
Not many of us need reminding of the anti-women attitude of this Fine Gael /Labour Government. While Minister Varadkar is more vocal on his attitude to women, for most of us the evidence of the last two budgets, the Croke Park ll proposals and the lack of progress on abortion rights make it abundantly clear how this government views women, not to mention cuts to Special Needs Assistants, mobility allowance, child benefit, lone parent allowances, respite care, home helps – the list goes on.
What Minister Varadkar fails to see is that Irish families have the highest childcare costs in Europe. There is virtually no publicly-funded, not-for-profit childcare and what precious little there was has been cut to the bone by the recent cuts of Fine Gael and Labour. Cuts to Community Employment Schemes in particular have disastrously affected Community Crèches and afterschool clubs, mainly in disadvantaged areas. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of C.E. workers who have been let go are women; women who were providing valuable services to our communities.
A lack of decent affordable childcare has long been a disadvantage to working women in Ireland. For many women with children it means that a return to the workforce or education is ruled out. As Minister Varadkar has highlighted ,wages are now so low and childcare costs so high that for many families it is not economically viable for low paid workers with children to work. The Sunday Independent, March 24, reported on how a couple on €55,000 and €30,000 respectively, with two children would be just €92 less well off per month if the lower paid parent, usually the woman, worked in the home taking care of the children instead of being part of the workforce.
Rather than women being forced into the home as Minister Varadkar’s remarks would suggest, what is needed is a massive public investment in childcare rather than the care of the bondholders.
These services should be run for the benefit of society and the positive development of the next generation. Instead they are farmed out to privately run companies whose purpose for existence is to make profit. Care of the most vulnerable sections of our society comes down to profit and plenty of it, but not for the care workers, many of whom are on the minimum wage.
Quality, free or affordable, publicly funded, local or workplace based childcare system with fully trained workers on proper wages and conditions is what is needed.
Low pay and a driving down of wages is a reality for workers today and all are victims of the race to the bottom, women and men.
However, equal pay and equal opportunities for women is a myth. Women in Ireland still earn 20% less than their male counterparts. They are concentrated in lower paid and undervalued sectors of the work force. Service industries such as retail, clerical, childcare and the health services have an overwhelming majority of female workers. The work that is carried out by these women such as childcare and care of the elderly is grossly undervalued and underpaid. Women are majority of part-time workers and as such they do not have the same entitlements as full-time workers. Some women work part-time by choice, a choice that should be available to them, but many women do so as it is a necessity in order to juggle work and family commitments to coincide with school hours, as after school care doesn’t exist or the cost is prohibitive.
Leo Vardkar and his ilk need to realise that ideas like his belong in the past. Women in Ireland will not be driven back to the last century. We are part of the struggle that is developing in Ireland in opposition to this crisis of capitalism of which the struggle for women’s rights is an integral part of. We would however, be more than happy to see Minister Varadkar retiring back to his own home to busy himself with housework!