43% of childcare workers are actively seeking another job due to low pay and insecure contracts in the sector, according to research by the SIPTU trade union.
The union's annual Early Years Professionals' survey reveals that 90% of respondents were struggling to make ends meet due to what the union calls "poverty pay", and 93% would leave the sector within five years if conditions did not improve.
"Low pay, lack of maternity payments, lack of savings to meet unexpected expenses and difficulty in affording a decent standard of living have all led to a situation where over half of those surveyed are currently looking for another job," the report states.
91% has no pension beyond the State Pension, almost 77% of those surveyed had no work sick pay scheme, while only 10% had received a bonus or additional pay from their employer during the pandemic.
In a workforce of 26,882 people working directly with children, of whom 98% are female, only 10% had access to employer-supported maternity leave.
Social scientist Dr Amy Greer Murphy, who carried out the research late last year, noted that 74% of respondents were finding their work stressful in the current difficult times - but added that issues such as low pay and insecure contracts were not new.
"With 93% of respondents stating they will leave the sector within 5 years if conditions don't improve, this research clearly indicates that these professionals need better pay, job security and to be valued more by government and society," said Dr Greer Murphy.
97% of respondents felt the Government should fund wages, as it did for primary and secondary schools.
"This would allow for a dramatic reduction in fees for parents," the report noted.
SIPTU Head of Strategic Organising, Darragh O'Connor noted that only 42% of professionals in the sector were earning the Living Wage of €12.30 per hour, while 38% were actively looking to leave their profession.
He urged the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderick O'Gorman to boost investment in the sector.
"The Minister knows that pay is an issue and assures us he wants to address it," said the SIPTU Official.
"The ideal mechanism for the government to do this is to set up a legally binding Joint Labour Committee for the sector - as promised in the Programme for Government - to underpin decent pay and conditions. However, additional government investment must also be allocated to address the issues," he added.
"Even before the pandemic, there was a staffing crisis but we are now on the verge of losing huge numbers of educators unless pay and conditions are addressed. The Government, workers and employers all have a role to play in ending poverty pay."
One of over 2,000 early years professionals responding to the survey was Early Years Educator Eilish Balfe.
She said that despite holding a Level 8 degree and 13 years of experience in Early Years education, she had only received one pay rise over that period.
"How can we attract school leavers into a sector that is known for poverty pay and conditions? Our sector is near collapse due to the exodus of qualified professionals in search of better pay and conditions. The pandemic has shone a light on our sector which shows that we need to be recognised and valued as essential frontline workers."