Protest to save ECD jobs

Ieber-Nur Davids and Nosi Gebe from the Early Learning Resource Unit, were among those who picketed in Turfhall Road, Lansdowne.

The R1.3 billion that the government plans to spend on hiring youth to check Covid-19 compliance at preschools should instead be used to save the teachers’ jobs, say those opposing the plan.

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu says her department will hire 36 000 young people on short-term contracts to check early childhood development (ECD) centres were Covid-19 compliant.

ECD staff protested against this last week, saying instead of policing nursery schools, the money should be used to save 175 000 long-term jobs in the sector.

ECD centres supported Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU) staff in a week-long picket in Turfhall Road, Lansdowne.

Carolyn Clark, from Elru, said Covid-19 compliance was a necessity, but right now there were bigger priorities.

“The ECD sector is not a babysitting service. Its role is far more important than that,” she said.

Ms Clark added: “If centres should be forced to close their doors, where will the parents be able to take their children for a solid educational foundation? We need compliance, just not now.”

Bronwyn Hartzenberg, from Sticky Fingers Educare in Lotus River, also supported the picket.

“Only 10 of our 60 children returned, because some parents lost their jobs, and others are too scared to send their children. Most of our staff are still at home not earning a salary.”

Audrey Swartz, the principal of Bridges Play Centre and Nantes ECD, both in Bridgetown, said only seven of their 20 staff were getting salaries.

“The Department of Social Development wants to spend money on creating jobs, when those of us already in the sector, need the assistance so desperately. Of our two centres, only one gets a subsidy from the department, and it is that centre’s seven teachers who were able to earn an income. We are dependent on fees and fundraising.

“There are parents who are still committed paying fees, but there are others who have lost their jobs, and those who feel anxious about bringing their children back.

“We feel the money the department is spending could go to better use. They can at least give the centres proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and give something towards teachers’ salaries,” Ms Swartz said.

She said her two centres would prioritise 5- and 6-year-olds when they reopened on Monday August 31 to prepare them for school.

“We also have to do constant monitoring and screening, so although half of our children will return, our teachers will work on a rotation to ensure teaching, as well as monitoring and screening are happening. It will be all hands on deck. We all also decided to take a salary cut.”

Ms Swartz said many ECDs had already been forced to close and her staff hadn’t been unable to apply for unemployment benefits because “we were in the process of registering when Covid-19 struck”.

She added: “We are the foundation and prepare children for school. We need to get some recognition, but instead we had to picket. We need to make our voices heard.”

The Department of Social Development said in a statement that it wanted to both create and protect jobs in the sector, while stemming the spread of Covid-19 and driving up ECD registration.

“The package will not only create employment opportunities for youth, but also provide support aimed at unemployment risk reduction intervention in the ECD sector,” it said.

The department said members of the National ECD Intersectoral Forum had welcomed the proposal and set up a team to give comments and suggestions.

“The department is committed to using the economic stimulus intervention to ensure the sustainability of the sector, which was reflected in the plans presented to the Forum,” the statement said.