Thousands of kindergarten workers held a protest march in Tel Aviv on Sunday on the first day of an open-ended strike by state-supervised daycare centers over wages and work conditions.
Protesters gathered in the city’s Rabin Square and then marched into surrounding streets, blocking traffic.
Some waved banners demanding an increase in wages as part of the labor action, which has kept some 120,000 babies and toddlers at home.
There were no reports of arrests.
“The government is forcing us to start sanctions and the strike with its refusal to hold negotiations with us,” the daycare centers said in a joint statement.
“Prime Minister [Naftali] Bennett and Finance Minister [Avigdor] Liberman, who agree to hold talks with Hamas, refuse to hold them with the [daycare] assistants who earn NIS 5,000 ($1,553) a month and are collapsing under the burden,” the statement said referring to talks between Israel and the Palestinian terror group.
Daycare centers operated by WIZO, Na’amat, Herut Women, and Emunah participated in the strike. They were joined by the Yanbu nonprofit organization, which operates daycare centers in the Arab community, and the Naot Margalit organization of daycare centers.
However, daycare centers operated by the Israel Association of Community Centers and those in the ultra-Orthodox community, while backing the strike campaign, did not join it and kept their doors open.
Welfare Minister Meir Cohen told the Kan public broadcasters that the daycare workers were “justified in the campaign” and that he hoped that within a couple of days the issue will be “sorted out.”
“There are negotiations, and there is discourse between education officials and the [daycare] leaders,” he said.
Economy Minister Orna Barbivai said Saturday she recently met with representatives of the daycares and expressed her support for their “justified” demands.
“Despite this, the minister believes it’s not right to have a strike… before fully exploring dialogue with the Finance Ministry,” her office said. “The strike is expected to harm thousands of children during a complicated time, a health crisis, and will prevent many parents from going to work as usual.”
The government-supervised daycares warned the state a month ago they would strike over severe staffing shortages and low salaries unless a solution were found. Last week they began limited action that saw them reducing their work hours and opening at 10 a.m.
An OECD report last week showed that Israel spends about 0.2 percent of its gross national product on education for children aged 0-3, about half of the OECD average.