All not what it seems behind creche doors
2019-08-01 13:32:59 -
Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker

On Wednesday 24 July, Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ aired a programme called Creches, Behind Closed Doors, that featured a highly profitable creche chain (over €2.7m between 2014 and 2018) whose practices were deemed questionable in many ways, and in some cases far below the standard.

It was upsetting that despite this chain’s large revenue, the business had such a high turnover of staff — understandable due to the terrible working conditions. I have worked in a creche and sometimes found it challenging to deal with six toddlers, the limit of the legal child-adult ratio. Now imagine one person having to deal with 17 babies.

I asked myself how anyone was meant to do a good job in such overwhelming circumstances. This individual in question was criticised for strapping the kids in chairs while changing other children’s nappies, for as long as 20 minutes. That wasn’t how any parent would want their child to be treated. However, I could also see why the person felt the need to secure children that weren’t being changed, just in case something happened out of their view.

I also don’t agree with allowing people that aren’t properly vetted to work with children, especially in a formal childcare setting. But I wish the programme had also explained the vetting process, which can take many weeks. It may be shorter now, but it used to take at least six weeks.

The cleaning of the creche was a significant focus of the programme, though far too much in my view. I have worked for a very well maintained creche in Dublin 4 that looked after a number of celebrities’ children, and even there the cleaning duties, especially in the afternoons after lunch, were full on. 

We alternated our cleaning but when one was on the cleaning roster, they were expected to dust, hover and wash the three large rooms, plus six bathrooms and a nappy changing area, all within the space of 40 minutes. I always wondered why the creche didn’t hire a cleaner to come in specifically for this task, after kids had their lunch.
Charging €1,050 for each child, in the junior Montessori that I worked in and had thirty kids, I don’t think the creche would lose much by having a dedicated cleaner each day.

But maximising profits seems very important. One of the examples of this in our creche was that our staff room, where we were to have our lunches and tea breaks, was the size of an average bathroom. It was never enough for the eight of us that shared it. We had to do ‘musical chairs’ rotation to give the next person a seat to have their meal. We had nowhere to rest, just switch off from such a highly demanding job — something I think workers in that setting need.

Regarding repeatedly feeding the children noodles and diluting their milk, I thought it was undoubtedly harmful to the children’s health. A healthy balanced diet is very important for all of us, particularly children at that age. It was also very selfish and greedy or to some degree lazy of the creche to not invest in healthy eating. What did they have a chef for? For noodles?

On a more important note, the Government has a responsibility to treat early childhood education and care with the same priority as primary and secondary schools, to avoid profit-driven provision of early learning and access to creches only for those who can afford them.

Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.
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