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After-school care workers threaten to launch strike Friday

After-school care attendants speak in a press briefing Wednesday held to protest the Education Ministry's plan to make after-school care a community level project managed by local government authorities. (Yonhap)
After-school care attendants speak in a press briefing Wednesday held to protest the Education Ministry's plan to make after-school care a community level project managed by local government authorities. (Yonhap)
Thousands of after-school care attendants are threatening a one-day strike Friday, demanding better working conditions.

A coalition of nonregular school workers announced Wednesday that more than a quarter of its 13,000 members working as after-school care providers are expected to join the walkout. That is about 3,300 workers at 2,200 elementary schools nationwide.

The planned action is to block a legislative revision that would make after-school care a community-level project planned and managed by local government authorities. Currently, individual schools are responsible for the provision of after-hours care to students in need.

“During this crisis time of coronavirus outbreak, we provided care to students at schools as part of the public safety net. Now what is being discussed is to transfer that role to local governments, which could result in the monetization of after-hours care,” a group of care workers in North Jeolla Province said in a statement Wednesday.

“We will strike on Friday to stop this.”

Care workers fear that the shift could result in increased job insecurity.

Some regional governments facing budgetary constraints would delegate managerial tasks to private companies, choosing the lowest bidder, which would increase the chances of those companies firing after-school care attendants, they say.

Two bills are currently pending at the National Assembly that would expand child care support to working parents by changing the way school after-hours programs are run. One is proposed by Rep. Kwon Chil-seung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the other by a lawmaker of the liberal minority Open Democratic Party.

Both of the bills envision local governments, not educational authorities, as the primary supervisor of childcare services at school.

The government is also drafting a similar motion dubbed as an “all-day child care bill” that would integrate different support programs provided by schools and community- or state-run facilities.
 
The Education Ministry said the government’s proposal would not explicitly state the shift in the employment status of school care workers.

Teachers’ groups have supported the legislative move in hopes it helps lower the burden on schools, which have been struggling to focus on their core task of education during the pandemic situation.

Last month, ruling Democratic Party Floor Leader Kim Tae-nyeon pledged that the government and the party will come up with solutions within this year’s parliamentary session that “resolve many conflicts and help students and their parents in need of after-school care.”

Care workers also demand better working conditions, saying their livelihoods are being seriously affected by the pandemic. They call on the government to ensure an eight-hour workday and stabilize their wage levels.

Many of the care attendants are contract workers hired by individual schools and paid based on the hours they work. This has led to a drop in income when school operations were disrupted due to the virus outbreak, with fewer in-person programs.

To resolve the issue, the Education Ministry has proposed the formation of a joint negotiation body composed of representatives of after-school care attendants, parents, teachers and education officers.

Representatives of the nonregular school workers’ coalition, teachers’ associations and the ministry met Tuesday, but “no meaningful progress was made” a ministry official said. “The strike is likely to take place as planned,” the official said.

Parents fear the issue might disrupt the after-hours care programs at schools. Already, schools have sent out notices to parents asking them to find alternative options on the strike day.

According to ministry data, about 200,000 elementary students attend after-hours programs at schools.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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