Czech ministers disagree on company kindergartens

The Czech government is looking for a way to promote the establishment of company kindergartens by helping businesses overcome the hurdles of high cost and strict regulation. It is responding to an alarming lack of capacity in pre-school childcare operated by the municipalities. Nevertheless, government ministers in different departments cannot agree on what practical state support should be offered or about what form financial help from the government should take.

Offputting conditions for companies

Currently only 20 company kindergartens operate in the Czech Republic. The reasons for this are primarily the high costs of establishing company kindergartens and strict government regulations (see the Czech national contribution to the study on Quality of work and employment). However, the interest in this type of pre-school facility is high both on the part of parents and employers. Employers believe that having kindergartens in the workplace would encourage parents to return to work faster after parental leave.

A survey by LMC, the largest online recruitment agency, showed that the most frequent reason (61%) why companies do not establish kindergartens is due to the excessive financial cost of establishing and running them. One quarter of companies (24%) would consider establishing a kindergarten if they received a subsidy or tax allowance. Establishing a kindergarten is currently being seriously considered by just 15% of the employers interviewed.

The survey was carried out at the beginning of 2011 among users of the website www.jobs.cz and more than 100 companies using the LMC recruitment application.

A long-term issue

The long-term need for pre-school provision was addressed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MPSV) in 2008 via a proposal to support employers who provide or fund childcare for the benefit of their employees.

Nevertheless, in February 2009 the ministry released a declaration (in Polish) entitled ‘Twelve comments on the efforts of the Czech Presidency to open a debate on the Barcelona targets’, which clearly implied that the government’s priority was to promote care for children under the age of three by one of their parents at home (EU0203205F).

The Council of Europe agreed in Barcelona in March 2002 to remove disincentives for female labour force participation and aim to provide, by 2010, childcare in respect of at least 90% of children between the age of three and the mandatory school age, and in respect of at least 33% of children under three.

The Committee for Equal Gender Opportunities in the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS) responded to this declaration in a statement (in Polish), where it criticised this government approach, saying it was the non-existence of institutional care facilities that ‘often urges young people to delay having children until they are older’.

Moreover, according to the statement of the chair of the Confederation of Employer and Entrepreneur Associations (KZPS), the submitted proposal did not deal with the issue of small and medium sized companies, for whom the costs of establishing kindergartens remain prohibitive.

Dispute over financing

The present government plans to promote the development of company kindergartens. The Minister of Education, Josef Dobeš of the Public Affairs Party (VV) promises that the establishments which comply with compulsory standards on hygiene and staff qualifications will be granted a subsidy amounting to 60% of the kindergarten operating costs. This proposal, despite the opposition of the Minister of Finance, was adopted by the government in April.

Another method of promoting workplace provision was proposed in the bill on childcare services being prepared by the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Jaromír Drábek of the Tradition Responsibility Prosperity 09 party (TOP 09), who plans to introduce tax allowances to those companies who provide childcare.

But this proposal has met with resistance from Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek of TOP 09, who says: ‘I am not a fan of tax allowances. Those who want to promote them should try to think of other instruments than those within the power of the Ministry of Finance.’

Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Drábek is also pushing for a simplification of the requirements for operating a pre-school childcare facility, which should make it possible to establish a kindergarten for those companies that have not yet been able to meet the strict requirements prescribed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport of the Czech Republic (MŠMT ČR).

Support of trade unions

Company kindergartens seem to be the only topic in the upcoming bill. Trade unions have given it their support.

In their statement regarding the government proposals, ČMKOS says it considers the ‘introduction of tax allowances appropriate. The provision of childcare at parents’ workplaces is currently rare in the Czech Republic; nevertheless, it is basically a tenet of corporate social responsibility’.

Commentary

The government should be debating the bill on childcare services in June 2011, and if the upcoming changes are accepted, they should largely take effect from 1 January 2012.

Štěpánka Pfeiferová, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs

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