MADRID – Attending to twelve children aged one and two years old by yourself for the minimum wage or full time looking after eight babies for €930 per month. This is the reality for many workers in Spanish nursery centres and preschool education. Furthermore, their sector is crucial to the Spanish economy.
There are hardly any part-time jobs in Spain. Therefore, many parents both have to work and are very dependent on childcare. However, the conditions of the workforce in this sector are so precarious that the unions have called on the 80,000 employees, both public and private, to go on strike for four days starting today. They protest against the persistent poor working conditions and low salaries. According to the European Social Map, 90% of these workers can be considered poor.
The CCOO union is calling for an “urgency for the dignity of a sector with scandalous pay and conditions”. The salaries of this profession have been frozen for more than a decade.
Years of underpayment
In 2019, teachers decided to strike due to an impasse in their collective labour agreement. However, despite two years of negotiations, the problems have not been resolved. These professionals, mainly women, care for babies and often earn no more than minimum wage.
Since education policy in Spain is decentralised, there are different rules and conditions per region. This has led to significant salary differences, sometimes up to 40%, for the same work in different autonomous communities. Although the Spanish Minimum Wage (SMI) has increased in recent years, the salary of these teachers has not increased since 2011. At the same time, the cost of living has increased by 25%.
Overload and decline in quality
The workload is high and not just limited to class hours. Teachers also spend a lot of time preparing lessons and parent meetings without extra compensation. In addition, there are also skewed student-teacher relationships. There are too many children per employee and this is at the expense of the quality of education and makes it difficult to identify students with special needs in a timely manner. Several studies have shown that education in young children is crucial for their cognitive abilities and the early identification of possible problems.
In this context, the CCOO points out that in Spain the recommendations of the European Commission are doubled in practice. It is optimal if one adult takes care of 4 babies when they are one year old or younger. In Spain the average is 8 babies per employee. Between one and two years the recommendation is six and in the centres of Spain the ratio is between 12 and 14. The ideal figure between two and three years is eight children, while in Spanish practice nursery teachers have between 18 and 20 children in their care.
In addition, the standard states that each nursery classroom must have one teacher and two supervisors, but this is also not met. Irene tells El Diario: “In my case, I am alone with 14 children aged one and two years old from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon. They can’t walk, and you have to feed them while you teach them to go it alone, or to be quiet and play with their friends. Either you organise yourself and take it easy, or it will become chaos,” says the educator
Call to action
Pedro Ocaña, secretary of the Private and Social Educational Services of FECCOO, criticises employers for their “conservative and regressive” approach. He claims that they only want to maintain the precarious working conditions of thousands of teachers.
The strike has received widespread support from parents, who are aware of the problems in the sector. Teachers are not only demanding better salaries but also more support staff and better working conditions.