“You do not need less education to teach smaller people”

Icelandic pre-school teachers are embroiled in a long-running and bitter wage dispute; claiming that they are drastically underpaid for their hard work and long years of university education.

Due to the nature of their job’s responsibility, pre-school teachers cannot take lunch breaks during the day, and therefore one of their demands in their wage contract negotiations is to be paid extra for the half-hour a day most workers are able to take off.

Haraldur F. Gislason, chairman of the Association of Pre-school Teachers, said on national radio yesterday that their demand over and above the general wage increases agreed in all sectors earlier this year is to have their lunch times paid — adding that this is a victory they had previously won, but had revoked again in the recession. The increase could amount to an 11 percent pay rise.

The starting wage for a pre-school teacher in Iceland is ISK 247,000 (EUR 1,485) per month and most get less than ISK 200,000 (EUR 1,203) in take-home pay. The comparatively low pay awarded pre-school teachers is in conflict with the fact that they have to spend five years at university to get their jobs.

Gislason emphasised on the radio that it is well-educated, well-meaning, good people who look after nearly every 2-6 year-old in Iceland on a daily basis. “You don’t need less education to teach smaller people,” he said.

The feeling of discontent among pre-school teachers in Iceland has gone on for years; but as the financial crisis eroded some of their hard-won fringe benefits (like paid lunch times), the dispute has come to a head.

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