Strengthening the role of Independent kindergarten’s Trade Unions in West Bank and Gaza

The project “Strengthening the role of Independent kindergarten’s Trade Unions in West Bank and Gaza” ended in November 2012. The project was supported by CGIL, financed by Nexus Emilia Romagna and implemented by Democracy Workers and Rights Center.

For a long time, the kindergarten and day-care sectors has been neglected by Palestinian decision-makers and left to develop as private sector or civil society establishments without appropriate guidance or supervision. In the Gaza Strip, most establishments are not even officially registered because they fail to meet the requirements and operate informally, at the expense of workers and children. There are great differences between kindergartens and day care centers based on the location and status of these institutions, often resulting in inadequate conditions in those established in most marginalized areas where the population has little means to afford good early childhood care and education (such as villages and refugee camps and areas with high unemployment rates). Salaries can be extremely low (as low as 150 to 300 NIS -30 to 60 euros- monthly in Gaza for example; in the West Bank, a recent DWRC survey showed that 68.4% of workers with BA degrees earn 400 to 800 NIS – 80 to 160 euros - per month), reflecting negatively on the quality of the services that can be provided. Since over 99% of the workers in the sector are women, they have been victims of the lack of recognition of their profession and its marginalization as it is often seen as a continuation of the reproductive role predominantly assigned to women in the Palestinian society. This has led women in the sector to start organizing in order to address the appalling conditions of their profession. With more women joining the labor market or wishing to do so, and more attention being paid to the importance of early childhood education, kindergartens and day-care centers are important services that need to be developed in all areas, including most marginalized. The unions representing the women working in this sector want to be part of this process and play a role in orienting the policies of national and local authorities to ensure that societal needs will be met and that their own rights and needs will not be overlooked. They also want to develop the organizational capacity and structure of their unions so that they can work side by side with governmental and non-governmental actors in reaching unified professional standards and improving the labor situation, with the end goal of ensuring quality education to children as well as safeguarding the basic rights of the workers.

In the Gaza Strip, the Kindergarten and Day Care Centers Employees Union was reactivated with DWRC support, and we helped organize them organize their general conference in June 2011. The union counts 250 members and they have elected 15 administrative committee members. The union now needs further assistance in accomplishing the following: elaborating work plans, expanding membership, reinforcing organizational work inside the union, and developing networking between administrative committee members.
In the West Bank, the Kindergarten and Private Schools Workers’ Union recently held its general conference, and has been able to open an additional branch for the union. They now represent workers in 5 Governorates and are pursuing their efforts to increase membership in all areas and to establish additional branches, in view of gaining more support for their advocacy for a minimum wage and other rights for workers in their sector.

The project focused on the situation of two trade unions: in the Gaza Strip, the Kindergarten and Day Care Centers Employees Union and in the West Bank the Kindergarten and Private Schools Workers’ Union.

In WB we registered 95 new affiliation and a new base committee was established in Jericho. The Kindergarten and Private Schools Workers’ Union elaborated its strategic plan and participated in the Global Education Campaign in Palestine to demand for compulsory education in kindergartens. Financial situation remains precarious and limits the union’s activities. Expectations from affiliates are very high towards the union representatives, especially with regard to the adoption of a minimum wage. A vast majority of kindergarten workers should benefit from the measure, and the main challenge for the general union will be to ensure its full implementation from 1/1/2013.
Concepts of democratic trade union work and understanding of labor law was reinforced for 248 kindergarten workers across the Gaza Strip. The membership of the union increased by 25% with the establishment of 5 workers’ committees in workplaces and the affiliation of 117 members to the union . The Kindergarten and Day Care Employees Union has acquired skills to conduct their struggles and social dialogue.

The Conference on “The situation of kindergartens in the Gaza Strip” elaborated the following recommendations and suggestions:

1. Support to kindergartens is requested from PNGO and labor federations through operational projects
2. Activating the role of the Ministry of Labor through providing female labor inspectors for monitoring the work conditions and circumstances of kindergarten workers and their work contracts
3. Kindergarten owners should organize in an employers’ association to facilitate follow-up on issues regarding kindergartens with competent authorities
4. Initiate social dialogue between social partners in this professional sector to enable the negotiation of collective work agreements to which all parties would abide, and whose implementation would be monitored by the Ministry of Labor based on the laws in force
5. Engage a classification process of kindergartens on part of the Ministry of Education, that would be followed by a classification by the Ministry of Labor regarding wages levels of kindergarten workers
6. Holding a workshop to seriously investigate the problem of kindergartens and propose solutions, with the participation of the Ministries of Education, Labor, Health, Local Governments and employers
7. Requesting our universities to pay attention to identify educational specializations that serve the labor market with regard to kindergartens

The project involved 731 women in 28 days of training and information.

Article written by Sabina Breveglieri, Nexus Emilia Romagna