Intense discussion of nursery teacher wages in Finland snowballed into a protest in Helsinki on Saturday. A citizens' group that calls itself "Ei enää leikkirahaa (No more play money)" was the instigator of the demonstration in early March on social media.
The movement was sparked by a March 5 story from the public broadcaster Yle in which the teachers' union OAJ accused the capital city municipalities of creating an unofficial "gentleman's agreement" to not pay higher salaries to hire competent daycare teachers, despite hundreds of vacancies and a severe shortage of skilled professionals.
The municipal leaders of Espoo, Helsinki, and Vantaa later denied that any such verbal agreement was in place.
"The pact seemed so immoral; we just had to man the barricades. People are very dissatisfied and they feel as if their wages are extremely unfair," said Pauliina Seppälä, one of the organizers of the group, which received over 10,000 likes on Facebook after it was established.
Average salary: 2,300 euros per month
The minimum monthly salary for daycare teachers in the three municipalities currently stands at around 2,300 euros. This payment is often even a few hundred euros smaller per month for workers in private daycare institutions.
Many people at the Saturday event called for monthly wages in the sector to be raised to 3,000 euros. Some of the banners at the protest read "A calling doesn't pay the bills", in reference to arguments that wages have remained low because people tend to think that people who pursue daycare work do so because they answer a calling to their vocation.
The union of daycare teachers in Finland has called for a salary increase to 3,000 euros to match that of teachers in primary and secondary schools, and the OAJ has concurred.
"Daycare teachers carry out demanding and valuable work that not only benefits the children, but also the entire society," OAJ chair Olli Luukkainen said in statement in support of the demonstration on Friday.
Future of early childhood education at stake
Seppälä said she was pleased that the demonstration attracted so many participants. She says it will give her group the impetus to continue the fight until daycare wages are improved.
Jari Miettinen was one of the people drawn to the protest. He changed careers and abandoned his work as a daycare teacher after he burned out. He says a wage increase is absolutely necessary if Finland wants to develop early childhood education appropriately.
"We need a bigger wage so people will listen to us. If daycare teachers earned 3,000 euros a month, we would be better noticed. Only then would we really be able to press for children's best interests," he said.