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Teachers' union calls unofficial daycare teachers' pay deal "cartel-like and illegal"

The teachers' union OAJ is calling on municipal employers to determine if Espoo, Helsinki and Vantaa have broken the law by entering into a "gentleman’s agreement" to not pay higher salaries to hire competent daycare teachers -- in spite of hundreds of vacancies and a severe shortage of skilled professionals.

Lapsi leikkii lumessa.
Image: Mikko Savolainen / Yle
Denise Wall

The Trade Union of Education, OAJ, has condemned reports that municipal leaders in Espoo, Helsinki and Vantaa have entered into an unofficial agreement not to offer competitive salaries to attract competent daycare teachers to fill open positions.

The capital region’s largest cities have admitted to reaching a so-called “gentleman’s agreement” on pay for kindergarten workers. In practice, the deal means that none of the municipalities will increase salaries for the position to attract competent applicants to fill existing vacancies.

Yle reported Monday that Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa are parties to the verbal agreement, which also extends to other teaching positions. The municipalities are currently facing a severe shortage of kindergarten teachers, with more than 600 vacancies still unfilled.

It is the responsibility of municipal employers to ensure that they abide by nationwide collective bargaining agreements for the sector. These collective agreements are based on laws governing collective agreements.

Union to call for probe of secret deal

The OAJ said that it intends to file a so-called request for review with the association of local government employers in Finland, KT, over what the union has dubbed a rarely-used procedure. The OAJ said it wants to put an end to the practice, which it described as a serious offence.

“It’s a shocking practice. And quite a statement on kindergarten teachers, especially since they are in short supply, and even though their salaries are low and hundreds more of them are needed,” OAJ chair Olli Luukkainen told Yle.

The minimum pay for a kindergarten teacher is determined by existing collective bargaining agreements, but job-specific salaries are negotiated locally with the employer – in this case, the municipality.

The minimum monthly salary for daycare teachers in the three municipalities is around 2,300 euros. In Helsinki, the job-specific pay is 2,363 euros and 2,379 and 2,350 in Espoo and Vantaa respectively, according to each city’s head of early years education.

Agreement also covers other teaching professionals

The OAJ’s Luukkainen said that he has not been aware that the cities had been conspiring to keep the salaries of daycare teachers at the same level.

“This has been a secret agreement. I would compare this to a cartel. This is illegal, this kind of deal cannot be made,” he added.

Helsinki director of education and training Liisa Pohjolainen previously told Yle that the agreement also covers the wider education sector, so it includes other professionals such as class teachers and school principals.

“These municipalities are acting in a fashion that is contrary to that of a market economy when there is a shortage of some professional group. So for example, in the case of doctors or child protection social workers, municipalities [should be] ready to pay salaries above the lower limit,” the head of the teachers’ union said.

Pohjolainen as well as early education directors for Espoo and Vantaa Virpi Mattila and Sole Askola-Vehviläinen refuted the OAJ’s charge that they operated like a cartel.

Municipal employer: Nothing new in sharing wage information

The municipal employers’ association was not aware of the agreement forged by the three cities, according to Henrika Nybondas-Kangas, KT’s negotiations chief responsible for early childhood education.

She said that municipalities independently decide on job-specific pay while complying with regulations governing minimum salaries in collective bargaining agreements.

“It is not new for major employers to cooperate and they might share information about matters like salaries,” Nybondas-Kangas noted.

According to the KT spokesperson, pay information may also be exploited in recruitment situations but the employer must then decide on an appropriate pay level independently.

“Every employer must abide by its own needs assessment system,” she noted.

Nybondas-Kangas would not comment on whether or not the behaviour of the three municipalities resembled that of a cartel. She said only agreements that were binding would have posed a problem.

“Deals based on a recommendation can be permitted,” she added

Once the teachers’ union files its request for a review, KT will contact the municipalities in question and request a report on the assertions.

“If it is a matter of a procedure that violates the municipal sector collective bargaining agreement, we will ask them to change the practice,” Nybondas-Kangas said.

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