Baby in daycare
Baby in daycareiStock

As the education system gradually returns to operation, a new blow has struck preschools and afternoon daycare programs, due to a snap decision made by the Education Ministry. In a departure from years-long practice, the Ministry has told the heads of daycare centers that run afternoon programs (until four o’clock) that henceforth, salaries for teachers and assistants who work during the midday and afternoon hours will have to be deducted from the wages of those who work the morning shifts.

It appears – although the Education Ministry has not made any attempt to clarify – that all of a sudden, the Ministry discovered a “legal issue” whereby two separate subsidies were being provided for the same hours. In towns and cities where a large percentage of the population is in a low socio-economic bracket, the government had a vested interest in enabling both parents to go out to work – but what about their children? The solution they came up with was to provide a financial incentive in the form of subsidized daycare, until four in the afternoon, for disadvantaged parents who worked full-time or close to full-time hours. The daycare centers, too, were subsidized to provide the service, and everyone benefited – to a degree, as salaries for daycare assistants were generally set at the minimum wage level.

For some reason which is not entirely clear, it seems that two subsidies have been paid to daycare centers for overlapping hours. The centers received one budget for hours up until two, but were actually subsidized until four; and the hours between two and four were separately subsidized.

All of a sudden, in the middle of the school year, the Education Ministry has tumbled to the fact and issued a directive that this situation must not continue. Henceforth, salaries for afternoon assistants will come out of the budget for the morning shift, and if the employees of a center object, the center will be shut down.

“How do they expect us to suddenly find the money to pay afternoon salaries for the assistants, with no advance warning?” center directors demanded to know, in conversation with Kikar Hashabbat. “This was a move that should have been planned and coordinated – and budgeted for – months in advance. Instead it was sprung on us with no warning, in the middle of the year.”

Several directors approached the head of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, MK Moshe Gafni, with their quandary. Gafni responded that he would try to locate a budget surplus in the Treasury that could be channeled to the daycare centers. “We certainly hope he will do so,” the directors responded. “But if his efforts fail, we will have no other option than to strike. We will shut the centers that have reopened, and the ones that have yet to reopen will remain closed.”

The directors acknowledge the difficulties this will cause for huge numbers of parents who need daycare for their children in order to be able to work, but they feel they have no choice. “If the government doesn’t come up with a solution by the end of this week, we will announce a strike,” they say.

Approached for comment last week, the Education Ministry has yet to respond. However, one official, off-the-record, tried to justify their position. “It truly is a pity for the assistants,” he admitted. “However, there is a legal problem here that has to be addressed.”

Perhaps coincidentally, virtually all of the daycare centers affected by the new ruling are in haredi towns or cities. The official at the Education Ministry denied that the ruling was directed specifically at haredim, clarifying that, “This isn’t about the haredi community – it’s about anyone who is in a low socio-economic bracket.” Any overlap between the two is purely coincidental.