Private childcare workers demand better pay and working conditions

Teaching staff working in private childcare facilities are not covered by a collective agreement in Austria. In light of growing staff shortages and deteriorating working conditions, they are calling for a nationwide uniform pay scheme and a legal ceiling on the size of children’s groups. The teachers highlighted their demands by organising a demonstration in October 2009, which was followed by a petition campaign in December.

In Austria, most kindergarten and professional childcare facilities for children up to the age of six years are run by the authorities, mainly at provincial (Land) or local state level. The employees of these public care institutions are all covered by clear-cut employment regulations, which are unilaterally imposed by law. However, public childcare institutions do not cover the entire childcare sector and do not meet all of the, often particular, needs for professional care. Therefore, the sector also includes a number of private kindergarten and childcare facilities operated by particular organisations, such as clerical institutions or private-law associations and establishments. The private kindergarten sector in Austria is estimated to employ between 5,000 and 6,000 teaching staff, the vast majority of whom (over 99%) are women.

Pay and working conditions

According to public opinion, kindergarten teachers undertake a particularly valuable job. However, some experts argue this overall appreciation of their work is not reflected in their pay and working conditions. The private childcare sector is not covered by a collective agreement but only by a minimum pay scale (Mindestlohntarif), which is fixed and annually revalued by the Federal Arbitration Board (Bundeseinigungsamt). The minimum pay scale rates are relatively poor, given the length and high standards of the training curricula required to enter the profession. Moreover, the job of a kindergarten teacher has become increasingly demanding over the years as the number of children to be cared for has been rising and the composition of the groups has tended to become more heterogeneous in terms of culture, language and social background. The group size problem has even been exacerbated as some provinces introduced, in 2009, a partial reimbursement of expenses for kindergarten places – a move which has prompted many parents to place in private childcare facilities children who would otherwise have been cared for at home. This has resulted in a growing shortage of teachers in this profession.

Industrial relations in private childcare facilities

The private kindergarten and childcare sector, in line with most of the private education sector (AT0510202F), is one of few areas in Austria that does not fall within the representational domain of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (Wirtschaftskammer Österreich, WKO). The non-existence of either a statutory or a private-law interest representation for the employers in this sector explains the lack of any collective employment regulation in this area. The specific structure of the sector, which is characterised by a broad variety of institutions and establishments with respect to their size, ownership structure, ideological background and interests, has thus far been the main obstacle to setting up an interest representation organisation for employers. On the employee side, the Union of Salaried Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten – Druck, Journalismus, Papier, GPA-DJP) is the most important trade union representing the sector’s employees. However, the sector’s heterogeneous structure in terms of establishments, along with the continuing predominance of female employees and the great variety of working conditions, have proved to be a strong impediment to the trade unions being able to reach and recruit many employees.

Protest action

Nevertheless, in light of deteriorating working conditions, despite a general improvement in the skills of teaching staff, a group of self-organised teachers, with the support of GPA-DJP, launched in 2009 an initiative to highlight their demands. Their demands included:

  • a nationwide, uniform legal pay scheme with the aim of substantially improving pay and working conditions;
  • a ceiling on the size of children’s groups to a maximum of 15 children to be cared for by at least two teachers a day;
  • uniform training standards at secondary school level.

In order to substantiate their demands, the educators together with GPA-DJP held a demonstration in Vienna on 17 October 2009. This was followed by a petition campaign in December, comprising some 14,000 signatures, which was directly addressed to the government. Furthermore, GPA-DJP has urged private childcare providers to join an already existing private-law employer organisation in the broader social and health services sector (AT0312202F). The aim is that the applicable collective agreement for this sector would then be extended to the private kindergarten and childcare sector, eventually resulting in better starting salaries and overall working conditions. In this respect, GPA-DJP has already started ongoing talks with individual employers.

Georg Adam, Department of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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