Just as Important as Doctors

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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A protest in Tel Aviv over working conditions for daycare workers, earlier this week.
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

The daycare workers’ strike ended on Thursday, following agreements between the treasury and the organizations operating the centers. The agreements consist of reconsidering the centers’ tuition, which hasn’t been updated since 2012, and allocating sums for one-time grants for the workers, or for a minor raise in their wages.

With the constant Iran babble and the ongoing coronavirus clatter, the strike is seen as too esoteric to be newsworthy. Apart from the modest protest of parents who were directly hurt by the strike – it didn’t interest anyone.

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Every day some 120,000 infants and toddlers are handed over to the supervision of daycare centers in Israel to enable parents, mainly mothers, to go to work (the strike impacted only about 60,000 children, as not all the organizations operating the centers joined it).

The children are taken care of by women who mostly come from the weaker social strata, often from a disadvantaged background, and most of them have no training at all. Their wages were about 30 shekels an hour, and during the day they are in charge of a large number of babies and toddlers – one worker per six babies up to a year and three months old; one worker per nine toddlers aged one year and four months to two years, and one worker to no less than 11 toddlers aged two to three years. These are helpless creatures that demand constant care, including feeding, changing diapers and, first and foremost, safety and welfare.

This situation is catastrophic not only to those women – who are doing the most difficult and important work of raising children – but also to the children themselves. I suggest everyone stand outside a daycare center for one hour and listen to the cries. The centers are full of babies and toddlers crying with hunger because there aren’t enough hands to feed them, crying from neglect because there aren’t enough hands to change their diaper in time, and crying because they’re lonely, afraid and missing their parents, because there aren’t enough hands to hug them.

“When parents used to tell me they’re taking their child out of the center, I used to be happy for them,” a veteran center manager who broke down and retired this year told me. “I can no longer go along with this crime.”

The reason this situation has continued, and will continue, is because of the features that characterize the group that is being harmed. Unlike the medical residents, whose protest is justified in itself, the daycare workers have no tools and resources to exert pressure to change their situation. The residents will turn into doctors, who, sooner or later, will at least succeed in making a dignified living and more than that. The daycare workers’ future is much bleaker. They have no prospect of economic advancement, no tool for social mobility. They came weak and will remain so even after decades of hard work.

While the residents’ protest is seen as one pertaining to the general public, the daycare workers’ problem is seen as a niche matter. The workers’ distress is relevant to a relatively small group of parents of young children, who, as the years go by will also forget the burden of looking after them. It’s easy to get used to a growing child who knows how to dress and eat alone and doesn’t endanger himself every moment.

The real explanation for the continuation of the situation is that a workplace whose employees are mainly women will forever be neglected and ignored, and its workers grateful for every crumb they get.

Removing the responsibility of child-rearing from the family is done to enable women to develop and realize other parts of their personality besides motherhood. It’s a pity that the liberation of women from a certain status is carried out on the backs of weaker women, while most men, even these days, are a lot less involved in taking care of the younger children.

The daycare workers are no less important than the residents. The latter save lives, while the former are partners in creating them – by shaping the inner world of children in the critical years of their development. That’s how they must be treated.

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