On early Monday morning, several women gathered in front of a day care center in a Southern Seoul apartment complex, talking among themselves.
They were reading a notice on a bulletin board about a week-long “closure” of the center. It said the centers are protesting the government’s lack of support and that the closure is needed to enhance the welfare of the teachers, which directly affects the children.
“Some teachers showed up and took care of the children as an emergency measure. But they said on Wednesday all day care centers in the area will be closed and that we will have to come up with a Plan B,” a mother said. The others, who are also working moms, all complained that they may have to take a day off from work to look after their children.
“I sympathize with the teachers’ burden, but I cannot help but think the sudden closure is selfish. Working parents have no options,” another mother said.
This center is among 5,000 day care facilities that have staged a strike against the government’s recent freezing of subsidies for childcare centers. The participants account for one-third of the total private day care centers in the country.
Most of the centers, however, did not close on Monday due to the outcry from parents, who had not been informed of the class action in advance. Those in Gwangju, Daejeon, Chungcheong and North Jeolla provinces refused to join. Those in Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon decided to place several teachers on duty Monday and Tuesday, but to have a full strike on Wednesday.
An association of private day care centers urged the government to raise subsidies for childcare institutions.
“The Ministry of Health and Welfare has recently announced a set of plans to support childcare fees for all children under five by 2013. The price has been fixed at up to 394,000 won ($340) a month. But in order to finance the fee, the state has decided to freeze its support for day care centers,” the group said in a statement.
“More children will enroll in our facilities because of the government support, but the institutions will not be able to hire more teachers because of the budget restraints. It means the welfare of teachers will go down. We ask the government to increase the amount of support to that given to kindergartens,” it said.
The teachers said their strike is necessary.
“We look after children from 8 a.m. till 7:30 p.m., sometimes beyond that time for parents who work late. We also have to clean up the mess and do administrative chores,” a teacher with four years of experience said.
“To many people, lunch is break time, but to us, it’s stress chasing kids all over. We need improvements to the current system. We hope the matter can be settled quickly because we too are worried about the children,” she said.
“Not too many centers have closed today and the damage seems small. We are discussing ways to raise the teachers and management fees,” said Chun Man-bok, an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
“But what teachers are doing is wrong. Also the association’s claim is not true. The subsidy program will guarantee more support to the centers. But if the centers pursue the closure for a long period of time, we will give warnings and then consider shutting down the facilities.”
According to the administration, there are about 15,000 private day care centers in the country looking after more than 750,000 children. The government can hand down a two-month business suspension or substantial fine on child care facilities that do not run more than 12 hours a day for five days a week, according to the law.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org)