Following a five-day strike, state-supervised daycare centers reopened last Friday after a deal was reached to address claims of severe underfunding and understaffing. The agreement, reached by Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Histadrut Chairman Arnon Bar-David, Economy Minister Orna Barbivai, and leaders of organizations operating daycare centers, stipulates that salaries will be raised starting from next year, and that daycare centers to receive one-time compensation for losses incurred as a result of the pandemic.

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These daycare center operators, including Na’amat, the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), Emunah, and Herut Women, went on strike from October 3 to October 7. They demanded additional state funding, with the goal of raising caregivers’ salaries and improving conditions to boost staff numbers.

Daycare workers and parents protested in the thousands throughout the week, calling on the government to address the crisis. Intensive negotiations were held through the night between the organizations and the Finance and Economy Ministries in order to reach the solution.

On the first day of the strike, 5,500 daycare workers protested in Tel Aviv.

“They thought we would give up, they thought they could trample on us, but we are proving otherwise,” Hagit Pe’er, Naamat chairman, said at the rally. “They tell us this isn’t the time for a daycare strike – is there a good time?”

Naamat chairman Hagit Pe’er at the daycare workers protest in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Nizzan Zvi Cohen)

“We’ve had it up to here,” said Mina, a caregiver at Naamat’s Sitvanit center in Rishon LeZion. “We care about the future generation, [but] we do not have the appropriate tools.”

Hagai, a Tel Aviv parent, added his support: “It may be difficult now, but we understand that it is necessary. Our children deserve better care.”

Daycare workers protest in Tel Aviv. Sign in center reads: ”Who will take care of the little ones?” (Photo: Michal Marantz)

Daycare centers, which fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy but are operated by social organizations, care for approximately 120 thousand infants up to the age of three, accounting for roughly one fourth of all children in this age range. Daycare centers employ over 16 thousand workers as caregivers, managers, cooks, and more at an average salary of 5,700 shekels (approximately $1,750) per month. This comes out to a ratio of 1 professional staffer to 7.5 infants.

Enrollment in these government-subsidized daycare centers is determined based on certain criteria that prioritizes children of working parents and families of lower socio-economic status.

Daycare workers march in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Nizzan Zvi Cohen)

An additional 240 thousand infants, roughly half of children from the ages of 0-3, are cared for in private daycares, which are also subject to basic supervision from the Finance Ministry and operate as private businesses. The remaining quarter of children up to three years old do not participate in a daycare program.

The organizations operating state-supervised daycare centers say that they are suffering from a shortage of hundreds of employees due to the low salary, difficult conditions, and the significant wage gap compared to assistants in nursery schools, which are under local supervision.

According to data provided by the organizations, Israeli public spending on education for children up to six years of age amounts to 0.8% of gross national product, out of which expenditure on children up to three years old accounts for 0.2%. This is about half of the average expenditure of OECD countries.

The organizations further argue that Israeli public investment in educational frameworks for children under three years old is low compared to other countries and to the OECD average. Israel spends about $2,700 a year per child on such frameworks, compared to the OECD average of about 12,400 per child per year.

Histadrut Chairman Arnon Bar-David. (Photo: Histadrut Spokesperson’s Office)

The negotiating parties submitted a request to the Price Committee, a collaboration between the Ministry of Finance and the Labor Branch of the Ministry of Economy and Industry, to conduct a study in order to update the rates of state funding for the first time in 10 years. Over the course of the study, the Price Committee will evaluate the organizations’ claim that the current rates are not enough to cover all of the operational costs of a daycare center.

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai. (Photo: Yosi Zelliger / Flash90)

Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivai praised the agreements: “Following great efforts made in the last few months by the Labor Branch of the Ministry of Economy and Industry, I am pleased that an agreement has been reached on the subject of daycare centers, concluding the strike. Now tens of thousands of parents can return to work knowing that daycare workers will continue with their important, devoted work caring for our children. As I said to the daycare organizations, I am committed to continuing to deal with this subject.”