Education trade unions continue fighting for good salary and working conditions for early childhood education teachers


Representatives of European education trade unions which organise staff in early childhood education (ECE) discussed recent challenges of teachers in this sector. Education trade unions highlight the importance of play for children’s development against the increasing pressure to prepare children academically for school. ETUCE member organisations urgently demand better salaries and quality professional development for ECE teachers to tackle the absence of qualified staff and the high gender imbalance in the sector which has been aggravated due to the COVID-19 crisis.


On 4 November 2020, a second event of the pre-conference series of workshops took place online in the framework of the quadrennial ETUCE Statutory Conference focusing on early childhood education. For the occasion, 52 members from the European education trade unions met to share views and good practices on how to support ECE teachers against increasing challenges in Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Tajikistan, Israel, Portugal, France, Germany, Serbia, and in Georgia.  

The participants shared their concern about the COVID-19 pandemic that puts a strain on the early childhood education sector. Despite the teachers’ creative solutions such as the creation of videos and podcasts, distance teaching and learning turned out to be difficult and, in some cases, even unfeasible during the spring closure of the ECE intuitions. As a result, employment positions of ECE teachers are at stake in many countries or face delays regarding the payment of their salaries. Education trade unions actively negotiated with the ministries to guarantee salary and fair working conditions of ECE teachers during the lockdown. Education trade unions highlighted that the pandemic also intensified a long-term impact on the ECE teaching profession of the shortage of qualified staff, unsatisfactory working conditions and low salary.

While in many countries ECE staff is still not sufficiently qualified or not qualified at all, education trade unions of Serbia and Italy denounced that teachers are overqualified in comparison to the salary they receive, which is far below the average level of salary of teachers in other education sectors. However, the inadequate remuneration of ECE teachers is a problem that affects almost all European countries. The unsatisfactory working conditions and salaries harm the attractiveness of the ECE teaching profession and exacerbate the already high gender imbalance in early childhood education, which with 95% of women ECE teachers across OECD country, remains the most feminised education sector (OECD data).

Nonetheless, early childhood education is also facing increasing challenges to meet the new need of the changing society. More specifically, the participants discussed the trend of the ECE “schoolification”, namely the rising introduction of subjects like literacy, science and numeracy to prepare children for School and later for the labour market, to the detriment of children’s free playtime. Education trade unions strongly oppose this practice and stress the importance of the role of play in early childhood education. Many member organisations have been taking concrete actions to make policymakers more aware of the importance of ECE on the personal and social development of children. For example, the Norwegian trade unions presented the outcomes of  “the Nordic Way Conference”, a successful example of cooperation between trade unions and public authorities where the importance of the role play, inclusiveness, professionalism, and parental and community involvement were discussed from the perspective of the Nordic countries.

For more information:

  • Background document to the workshop: EN, FR, RU
  • Agenda of the workshop: EN, FR, RU