Up to a third of workers in childcare settings could go unpaid over Easter due to delays in establishing a wage subsidy scheme for the sector, the organisation representing those working in it has warned.

Early Childhood Ireland has sought urgent clarification on the status of the plans from Government.

It said it is two weeks since the Department of Children and Youth Affairs had briefed the group about plans for a bespoke subsidy system for the sector.

"One week later, a letter from the Minister and a set of Frequently Asked Questions were issued to every childcare provider in the State, and two short updates to these have followed since," said Frances Byrne, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Early Childhood Ireland.

"However, the Scheme has yet to be established and this has left both employers and staff facing huge uncertainty as the Easter period begins."

Ms Byrne said a third of the 4,500 early-years settings in Ireland are part-time and would usually close over Easter, but would not usually get funding from the State over that period.

"Because the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme has not yet been introduced, thousands of childcare staff are now facing two weeks with no pay at all," she said.

"So far, their salaries have been covered by the regular State funding for childcare places, but this will cease for these two weeks because they work in services that normally close for Easter."

She said the advice from Government had been that staff should be paid through the crisis, including Easter, but because the wage subsidy scheme for the sector has not been set up yet thousands of workers will not have any income over the next fortnight.

"It is critical that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs issues an immediate update with a firm date for the introduction of the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme and, in the meantime, provides the necessary funding so that staff can get paid over Easter, as the Department stated they would be in their FAQs last week," Ms Byrne said.

In response the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said it continues to work intensively with partners regarding the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme and an update will be provided as soon as it becomes available.

"It has always been the intention that the subsidies under the existing childcare schemes (ECCE, NCS, TEC and CCSP) would end with the introduction of the new Wage Subsidy Childcare scheme," it said in a statement.

"An additional ex gratia payment for the week ending April 10th was made pending the introduction of the Wage Subsidy Childcare Scheme and the payment reflected the normal course of payments to individual services over the Easter period."

Minister for Business and Enterprise Heather Humphreys

Meanwhile, the Managing Director of audiology company, Hidden Hearing, has written to the Minister for Business and Enterprise Heather Humphreys, seeking a review of the treatment of individuals earning in excess of €70,000 a year.

Stephen Leddy said the company employs over 120 people across the country and most are highly qualified audiologists who are providing an important healthcare function.

"Regardless of the sector, talented people with experience and knowledge are hard to replace, and their loss is most disruptive to business and service provision," he said.

"Those earning a higher level of income pay higher taxes, all the more unfair when it appears that, in time of difficulty, they become the cohort to receive nothing. The annual tax take from Hidden Hearing and our employees is in the region of €7 million."

Mr Leddy said higher earners have mortgages and other loan commitments to meet, often higher than the norm, and will therefore suffer a more disproportionate effect on their family's income as a result of the rules of the scheme. 

"Hidden Hearing had committed that all staff would be retained on full salaries, based on the subsidy scheme announced. Excluding higher earners, altogether, from the wage subsidy scheme means that this is now not possible, due to the current dramatic loss of income. We cannot afford to carry our senior management and audiologists without Government support and may have to make them redundant," he warned.

He added that when the crisis is over the process of re-employing people will lead to disruption to healthcare provision to vulnerable people.

He called for support in holding onto the experienced and knowledgeable staff.