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(LEAD) After-school child care workers launch strike over working conditions

All News 11:45 November 06, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with start of strike, press conference, other details in paras 1-11; CHANGES headline, photo)

SEOUL, Nov. 6 (Yonhap) -- Hundreds of after-school child care workers at elementary schools began a one-day strike Friday, raising concerns about a void in child care for young students with working parents.

More than 6,000 after-school child care workers, about half their total number in the country, plan to take part in the strike, according to a national rights advocacy group for non-regular school workers.

During a press conference outside the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Party, members of a national labor union for non-regular school workers demanded that the education ministry withdraw a bill that transfers responsibility for the after-school program from schools to local governments.

This photo shows striking after-school child care workers holding a rally outside the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Party in Seoul on Nov. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

They said the local governments could then commission the private sector to provide the services, leading to poorer working conditions for them.

"If the government continues to increase after-school programs in a haphazard manner, these programs will become a breeding ground for corruption, just like private kindergartens, even with the enormous investment of the state," the union said.

The union members also demanded an elevation in their employment status from part time to full time, saying they have been working longer hours without additional pay amid increased demand for their services due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Union members plan to hold rallies throughout the day outside the education ministry and the education offices of each municipal and provincial government.

They have threatened to repeat the strike with more people for longer than a day unless their demands are properly addressed.

On Tuesday, the education ministry proposed holding talks through a consultative body made up of union members, parents' associations and education officials, but the National Council of Governors of Education refused to join without the participation of the health and gender equality ministries.

The education authorities have asked school officials to volunteer their services to continue the child care program during the strike and use the services of local community centers if necessary.

The authorities also plan to mobilize non-striking workers and have asked parents not to use the program Friday unless it is absolutely necessary.

On Thursday, the education ministry urged union members to cancel the strike in consideration of parents and children, and resolve their grievances through talks, especially at a time when many are already suffering due to the pandemic.

Around 200,000 elementary school students benefit from the program. Over 80 percent of them are either first- or second-grade students.

Students arrive at an elementary school in Seoul on Nov. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)


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