Good quality childcare and early years education are vital public services. However, they are often underfunded and, for many workers unaffordable, while childcare workers themselves, the vast majority of whom are women, are often undervalued and underpaid.At European level there is some recognition of the importance of childcare in increasing women’s employment and as a contribution to encourage gender equality. This meeting will debate these issues with a range of speakers including researchers, trade union representatives, employers, civil society and the European Commission.
Early Childhood Education and Care
Early Childhood Education and Care is an important area of social services for EPSU which aims to work together with affiliates, civil society and others to ensure accessible, affordable and quality childcare in Europe. The overwhelmingly female workforce is undervalued and the improving of pay and working conditions across the sector is crucial along with lobbying and campaigning for increased public investment and funding. EPSU has set up an Early Childhood Education and Care network to enable affiliates that organised in the sector to coordinate and exchange information.
(January 2017) Employees at the Naturfidusen private childcare provider were not paid in December as the company went bankrupt. Public services union FOA also reported that another private care company had gone bankrupt taking the total to 36 since 2013. The union is concerned that increased pressure on municipalities to outsource these services will lead to more bankruptcies and more disruption and uncertainty for care workers.
(April 2017) The BDDSz childcare workers' trade union is supporting the ETUC's pay rise campaign. The union sees that many of the headline demands of the campaign - tackling low pay and the gender pay gap - fit with the union's priorities and it is encouraging members to show their support.
(May 2017) Trade unions representing childcare workers in the private sector have negotiated a new pay agreement which is in line with the municipal sector. Overall worth about 2.4% the agreement includes a 2% increase on minimum rates taking the lowest pay rate to NOK 295900 a year (around EUR 31650). The agreement covers over 26000 workers in more than 1700 workplaces. Meanwhile a strike over pensions in the Akasia group of kindergartens went into its fourth week at the end of May with more workers joining the strike. Equality of pension provision for men and women is a key demand.
(June 2017) Public services union ver.di has called on the minister for youth and families to launch a major national initiative to extend and improve training for childcare workers. The union argues that this is needed to ensure that enough well-trained staff are available to cope with the planned increase of 100000 kindergarten places. The union also wants to see national action in relation to staffing levels to address the problem that the availability and quality of early years education can vary significantly from region to region.
(June 2017) The vpod public services union has called for an end to internships in childcare and additional funding to ensure a proper provision of training in the sector. The union argues that many employers exploit the intern system to keep staff costs down while there is evidence that many workers who start on internships as a step towards a proper traineeship are disappointed as too few training places are available. While some authorities and employers have tried to regulate internships, vpod argues that they should be abolished completely.
Public services union IMPACT and general union SIPTU have welcomed a new parliamentary report that reveals the problems of low pay and poor working conditions in the early years sector. The unions are calling for increased investment and funding for the sector and action to tackle low pay with the need to set pay rates that recognise the responsibilities and qualifications of childcare workers, 98% of whom are women.
The public services trade union, younion, collected 15000 signatures in a petition that it handed in to the parliament of the region of Lower Austria on 10 October. The petition calls for action to deal with the pay and working conditions of the 3000 childcare workers in the region. The union wants to see improvements to education and training in the sector as well as the development of a proper career structure. It is also calling for pay to be commensurate with the responsibilities and demands of the job. The union is expecting to be able to negotiate soon, although there is no offer on this
The FNV trade union has welcomed new data showing an increase of 56000 in the number of children benefitting from childcare places. The union says this good news has to be weighed against the main challenges facing the sector with many workers on precarious contracts, with variable hours and often facing high workloads. The union plans to raise the issues in the upcoming negotiations over a new collective agreement. The current agreement covers 80000 workers and expires in January. Negotiations are due to begin in November.
Excessive workloads and unpredictable hours will feature prominently in the childcare sector negotiations that began on 8 November. With a slogan that "we're not jacks of all trades" the FNV trade union highlighted the problem that childcare workers were overburdened with cleaning, administrative and other tasks rather than child care itself. The union will be looking for restrictions on the extent to which employers can ask childcare workers to change their working time at short notice. The main pay claim will be for a 3.5% pay rise for the 80000 workers in the sector.
The ver.di services union is arguing that a sector pay agreement is needed to cover workers involved in childcare, youth and family work and care for the disabled. It says that the problem faced by the sector is that many welfare-based and private providers fail to pay decent wages with some pay rates as much as a third less than those that apply in the public sector agreements. Ver.di is highly critical of low-paying employers who don't recognise that urgent action is needed to address the shortage of skilled staff, with an estimate that kindergartens alone will face a shortfall of 329000
Unions organising childcare workers met in Brussels to exchange information on some of the main challenges they face to improve the quality of employment in the sector. Low pay, undervaluing of childcare work, precarious employment, work intensification, health and safety, staff shortages and inadequate career development were among the issues facing many unions in the sector.