Salaries by daycare teachers have become a discussion flashpoint following Yle reports that municipal leaders in Espoo, Vantaa and Helsinki had agreed not to offer competitive pay packages to attract skilled professionals.
Decision makers from the three large capital cities have since refuted the claims of collusion to manipulate pay levels for daycare teachers.
On Wednesday, Yle reported that nationwide, monthly salaries for highly-trained daycare teachers have remained at the level of around 2,300 euros. Municipalities pay such professionals a monthly salary of 2,304.88 euros as determined by the municipal collective bargaining agreement, and no more.
However, since Monday’s contentious revelations, the teachers union, the OAJ, is now calling for daycare teachers’ pay to be harmonised with that of primary school teachers. The proposal would mean a monthly salary increase of nearly 1,000 euros for daycare teachers.
“In light of the demands of the job, a suitable salary would be the same as a primary school teacher. Teaching young children is as challenging as teaching primary or upper secondary school students. In this country, a hierarchy still exists in which the older the student in question, the higher the pay of teachers instructing them,” declared OAJ labour market specialist Kristiina Johansson.
Johansson said that it would take several years and multiple rounds of wage hikes to achieve such a goal.
Current salaries don’t measure up
Johansson was asked whether labour unions should have pressed harder for better salaries for daycare teachers in the past.
“We have been as firm as we can. For example in 2015, kindergarten teachers received an additional 75-euro pay rise for the lower limit. We agree with municipal employers that municipalities have not done their duty, because when we negotiated that 75-euro increase, the municipalities said that everyone would be paid at the lower limit, although there had previously been different pay classes and salaries based on the demands of the job,” she explained.
“Our basic position has always been that 2,300 euros is not enough. But municipalities don’t understand that salary is an effective measure to retain good employees,” Johansson added.
“We have always been concerned about this kind of wage-setting policy, in which the price points change and as a result we have seen municipal salaries rise very little. This has in turn led to a situation in which private sector kindergarten teacher salaries are up to 200 euros lower,” she pointed out.
Another OAJ specialist, Ritva Semi, joined Johansson in saying that the current debate has stimulated an appreciation of the work that kindergarten teachers do.
“This discussion has been incredibly good. We are now seeing injustices coming to light. An appreciation for early years education is now coming to the fore,” Johansson said.
Kindergarten teaching "not all play"
According to Semi, some MPs still do not understand the difference between high-quality early childhood education and play school.
“In autumn 2016 it was quite staggering to hear parliamentarians discuss early years education legislation: at the time, people seriously said things like, ‘We learned without early childhood education’ and ‘even the janitor cared for kids in the old days’. We have many decision makers who don’t make decisions based on research and reports, but more on the basis of this kind of 'in the old days' and 'what I believe',” Semi said.
“When we invest in early years education it’s like putting money in the bank. But the results only show many years later. It is also a general problem in the education sector that the results of high quality early childhood education and education overall will not be reaped in the current government’s term in office, but during the next or even the following term,” Semi added.
A new government bill on early childhood education is currently in the commenting stage. Among other things, the bill seeks to increase required training levels for personnel in the field.
“There are many good things about it because many still see early years education as a mere social service. It is not the same as daycare,” Semi concluded.