Opening Bell: Consumers sceptical of 'recovery', creche staff problems, workplace wellbeing

Get up to speed with today's breaking business news...

Consumer sentiment increased slightly over the last month, but it's not a case of people actually feeling more prosperous.

Rather, the latest KBC Bank Ireland/ESRI Consumer Sentiment Index shows that consumers are not quite as worried as they were, although they're still feeling cautious.

The index climbed marginally to 101.9 in March, up from 100.7 last month.

Austin Hughes, chief economist of KBC Bank Ireland, says the "feel-bad" factor is easing somewhat, but many households are still feeling financial strain:

"Over the last year, roughly a quarter of households say that their household finances improved. So we're talking about three-quarters of consumers saying things haven't really gotten much better for them – they're sensing the recovery is happening to other people."

______________________________________________________

Some 86% of creches and pre-schools say the challenges of hiring and holding on to well-qualified staff is putting their survival at risk.

New research by Early Childhood Ireland also shows almost 40% of services that tried to recruit staff in the last year were unable to find anyone suitable.

Chief executive Teresa Heeney says a combination of poor salaries and working conditions means the sector is struggling to cope:

"A lot of people working in early years have a salary of about €11 an hour for 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, which gives them a take-home pay in the region of about €7,000.

"So when you look at that kind of unsustainable terms conditions, it's no great surprise that they're choosing to work elsewhere."

______________________________________________________

Employers across the country are being encouraged to get involved in Ireland's National Workplace Wellbeing Day.

The event aims to improve staff wellbeing through promoting better exercise and nutrition at work.

Michael Kelly from GIY (Grow It Yourself) says there is a knock-on positive effect for employers who take part in the programme:

"It's a national initiative with companies up and down the country taking part.

"I suppose this is one of these hopefully win-win scenarios for employers and employees. I think it's hugely important for our own health as employees... and obviously the n as healthy employees, we're more productive and so on for the employers."

______________________________________________________

More than 24,000 consumer complaints were lodged through the new EU Online Dispute Resolution platform against internet traders during its first year of operation.

The number of complaints from consumers based in Ireland was 367, while one Irish-based trader was subjected to 816 grievances from elsewhere in the EU.

The aim of the platform is to help consumers and traders to settle disputes faster, more cheaply, and out-of-court.

Martina Nee of the European Consumer Centre says as awareness of the platform grows, so does the number of complaints against traders who fail to honour their commitments:

"You can use the platform to lodge your complaint. You can fill out an electronic form free-of-charge and this is sent to the trader. Once you agree on an ADR [Alternative Dispute Resolution] entity then the platform will automatically transfer that complaint to an independent party and they will work on reaching an outcome for you, hopefully."