On the first of February, a great new program began in Jerusalem: the cost of afternoon day-care, a three-hour extension of child-care from 13:00 to 16:00 (1 to 4 p.m.) is now subsidized by the government to allow and encourage parents to work — and to ease the financial burden on those who already do. The subsidy is significant: instead of costing about 800 shekels a month or more, the frameworks recognized by the Department of Education will cost only about 200 shekels a month (slightly more for those who aren’t working, since the idea is to encourage employment, especially of women).
Parents, and everyone else, thought it sounded great. At least one small part of the wide-ranging recommendations of the Trachtenberg Committee, established in the wake of the massive social justice demonstrations of the summer of 2011, was put into effect. But it turned out there are hitches.
What was not publicized about the plan is that one of the ways used to cut the costs is to cut the wages of the employees who work with the children. Until now, kindergarten teachers and their assistants got paid “globally” — that is, on a monthly, and not hourly basis. Many of the women (few men work in these jobs) have years of experience that helped raise their salaries. Typically, twice a week outside activities were part of the afternoon care. Most of the children’s groups were small. All of that was changed by the tenders produced by the Department of Education.
The tenders put out for the new system included wage cuts of almost 50%; wages paid on an hourly basis (with no surrounding benefits, no paid vacations, etc.); no recognition of years of experience. To introduce these changes, employees were sent notices that they were being fired — but that they might be re-hired under the new plan, under “new” conditions. Furthermore, there would be no more than one outside activity a week and groups could be as large as 40 with no extra help or additions to the staff.
Fortunately, the Jerusalem municipality was responsive to the public outcry. Not only were the employees in distress, parents were concerned that whole staffs would resign, or be left deeply embittered. Moreover, the municipality itself, that had struggled for months to convince the Treasury and Education Ministries to use Jerusalem for the pilot plan, was concerned that the whole program would be nixed — or simply tried elsewhere. All these, plus the organizational assistance of “Koach Leovdim” (“Power to the Workers”, which organizes unions) made Jerusalem willing to be creative and find ways to keep the project running. Wages were raised significantly (although not back to their original level), compromises were reached on the size of the groups, and eventually a new basis for an agreement was signed.
Yet the real test is still ahead. The most egregious aspect of the tender, written by the Department of Education, is still in place: kindergarten teachers and assistants will be paid only on an hourly basis. There are no paid vacations, no social benefits, and no long-term contracts. The bus is late? You have to leave early for a doctor’s appointment? It’s taken off your wages.
The willingness of the municipality to show flexibility is nice, but it doesn’t solve the problems of the tender. Ilan Gilon, MK from Meretz, has already appealed to the Ministry of Finance. Dov Khenin, MK from Hadash, joined in the demonstration in Kikar Safra, in Jerusalem. Hilik Bar, now MK from the Labor Party, spoke against these conditions in a city council meeting before he was sworn in to the Knesset. Here’s hoping that other MKs from other parties will join in to form a wide coalition against this dangerous precedent.
It’s well and good to institute changes that will help any sector of the population in the struggle for social justice, but it shouldn’t be done by further impoverishing anyone else.