One in Four Preschool Children Has Foreign Background

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Of the nearly 20,000 children attending preschools in Iceland, 26% have a foreign background. This includes children who were born outside of Iceland but also children born in Iceland who have one or two parents that were born abroad. The data, released by Statistics Iceland today, also shows vastly different rates of preschool attendance between regions.

In December 2022, the number of children attending preschools in Iceland had increased by 3.3.% (635 children) from the previous year. A total of 11% were born in Iceland but had one parent born abroad, 9% were born in Iceland and had both parents born abroad, while over 3% were immigrants and over 3% had a foreign background by some other definition. A total of 73.4% of preschool students had no foreign background.

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Record percentages with foreign mother tongue and foreign citizenship

The data shows that 16.8% of all preschool children had a foreign mother tongue, more than ever before. As in recent years, Polish was the most common of the foreign mother tongues, with 1,063 children speaking Polish. The second most common mother tongue was English (356 children) followed by Spanish (166 children). The greatest increase was in the number of children speaking Ukrainian, from 16 to 58. The number of children with foreign citizenship has increased to 9.9%, more than ever before. The largest increase was in the number of children from Asia and South America.

Only 19% of one-year-olds attend preschool in southwest region

The proportion of 1- to 5-year-old children attending preschools decreased by one percentage point from the previous year, from 88% to 87%, as the number of children in preschools did not increase at the same rate as the number of children in that age group in the country. When one-year-olds are considered, attendance varies greatly between regions. While overall, 54% of one-year-olds attended preschools in December 2022, in the east that figure was 82% and it was 74% in the Westfjords. The proportion was by far the lowest in the Southwest region, with just 19% of one-year-olds attending preschool. Incidentally, the southwest region has a higher rate of foreign residents than most other regions.

The OECD Economic Survey of Iceland released earlier this month recommended Iceland’s policy focus on helping migrants integrate, including increasing support for students with immigrant backgrounds and more teacher training in multicultural education. The survey pointed out that immigration has brought significant economic benefits to Iceland with an influx of young people with high participation rates in the labour market.

Preschool Staff on Strike in 11 Municipalities

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Staff at 60 preschools in 11 municipalities went on strike today as negotiations between BSRB, the Federation of Public Worker Unions in Iceland and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) remain at a standstill. Other municipal staff across the country, including swimming pool and harbour staff, are already striking. Negotiators had an informal meeting two days ago but called it a step backwards.

“It was an informal meeting, so it wasn’t a traditional negotiation meeting,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, told RÚV. “But the result of the meeting was that we went backwards rather than forwards, so this dispute is still just in a deadlock.”

Today’s strikes affect preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, Árborg, the Westman Islands, Skagafjörður, Borgarbyggð, Stykkishólmur, Grundarfjörður, and Snæfellsbær. On Wednesday, harbour staff in Ölfus and the Westman Islands will strike.

BRSB has demanded that the collective agreement be retroactive from the beginning of this year, but the SÍS negotiating committee has resisted agreeing to such an arrangement.

Further Strike Action by BSRB Members Begins Today

reykjavík leikskóli preschool

Further strike action by members of BSRB began today. A week has passed since preschool and primary school workers went on strike in Kópavogur, Mosfellsbær, Garðabær, and Seltjarnarnes. Today, strikes will extend to the same workers in Hveragerði, Árborg, and the Westman Islands, including primary school employees in Hafnarfjörður.

Further strike action beginning today

On May 15, BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Last Friday, BSRB members in 29 municipalities approved strike action in a vote that ended at noon. Votes were cast in each municipality separately, but the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority in all of them, according to information from BSRB.

Primary school workers in Hafnarfjörður and Ölfus will begin strikes today. On Tuesday and Wednesday, four other municipalities will join in the strike action. On Thursday, only primary school workers in Seltjarnarnes will be on strike (preschool staff in five municipalities will also be on strike). As noted by Mbl.is, port workers in Ölfus will also go on strike today.

The strike actions will have some effect in the coming weeks, except in Reykjavík. As noted by RÚV, Reykjavík is the only municipality in the country that negotiates directly with BSRB, and a collective agreement was signed last month. Other local authorities normally delegate their bargaining authority to the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS).

Same wages for the same jobs

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, has emphasised the federation’s demand that the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities pay the same wages to BSRB union members as others in similar jobs. BSRB is demanding retroactive wage increases from January 1, when the last collective agreement was still in effect.

A schedule of BSRB’s strike action over the coming days and weeks may be viewed here:

BSRB

Almost 700 Children Waitlisted for Reykjavík Preschools

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Nearly 700 hundred children aged 12 months and older are currently waitlisted for places in preschools around Reykjavík, RÚV reports.

Parents of waitlisted children gathered at Reykjavík City Hall on Friday to protest the situation. Speaking to reporters, they explained the difficulties of finding childcare during the workday. One parent noted that he’d gone through the same situation with his first child five years ago, but said the process was even worse now. Another father described splitting babysitting duties between his child’s grandparents—three days a week with his father, two days a week with his mother—while he worked night shifts in order to ensure that neither he nor his partner needed to cut back on working hours in order to be able to take care of their toddler. A mother said that after calling preschools all over the city, she’d tried to find a professional childminder to watch her baby during the workday, but there were extensive waitlists with all of these individuals as well.

According to data provided by the City of Reykjavík, of the 669 children waitlisted for spots in local preschools, 60 are currently enrolled in private preschools until places can be found for them in city-run facilities. It’s assumed that many of the waitlisted children are in the daily care of privately employed childminders, but no information is available on how many at this time.

As of Friday, the city was preparing to allocate 200 more preschool spots, leaving 470 eligible children in limbo. City officials have said it may be possible to accept more children into preschools in the coming months and that efforts are being made to increase the number of available spots. Speaking to reporters on Friday, however, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertson said the city couldn’t make any promises that the youngest children on the waitlist would be placed or that parents who want to place their children in a specific preschool will be able to be accommodated.

Six Reykjavík Preschools Open All Summer

Six preschools operated by the City of Reykjavík will remain open all summer, Vísir reports. This initiative, which began last summer, is intended to give parents greater flexibility as to when they take their summer vacation days. Prior to this, all city preschools were closed for four weeks over the summer.

One preschool in each of Reykjavík’s neighbourhoods will remain open all summer. The preschools in question will be Bakkaborg in Breiðholt, Bjartahlíð in Miðborg/Hlíðar, Drafnarsteinn in Vesturbær, Lyngheimar in Grafarvogur, Rofaborg in Árbær/Grafarholt, and Vinagerði in Laugardalur/Háaleiti. All other preschools will close for four weeks over the summer as usual.

“[A]ll preschool-age children must have at least 20 consecutive days of summer vacation,” confirmed the City’s announcement on the new summer hours. “Summer closures in each preschool are decided in consultation with the parents’ committee and according to a survey taken by parents. If a children transfers from a preschool that closes over the summer to one that will be open, a staff member from the former school will also go to the preschool with summer hours to ease the child’s adjustment.”

Parents have until March 25 to apply for a place in a preschool with summer hours. Parents must apply for their child to be placed in a summer preschool for a minimum of one week. If parents do not apply for a summer placement for their child, they will be expected to take their summer vacation at the same time as their regular preschool.

Reykjavík Negotiations at a Standstill

Efling strike Reykjavík

No progress was made toward a new collective agreement for Efling members at yesterday’s meeting between the City of Reykjavík and Efling Union. Both parties published notices yesterday expressing disappointment at the lack of development. No further negotiation meetings have been scheduled at this time. The general strike affecting preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and garbage collection continues.

Disappointment on both sides

“The Negotiation Committee of the City of Reykjavík expresses great disappointment that no more progress was achieved at the day’s negotiation meeting with Efling’s Negotiation Committee,” a notice from the city states. It goes on to say that the city’s guiding light in the talks has been “to raise in particular the lowest wages with special emphasis on the wages of female professions.” The City reiterated the terms of their offer that were made public last week. They include an increase in the average monthly wage of general staff in preschools to ISK 460,000 ($3,620/€3,300) by the year 2022; cutting four hours from the work week, and increasing the number of vacation days to 30 for all employees of the City of Reykjavík.

A notice from Efling Union also expressed “disappointment and heavy concern” over the unsuccessful meeting. The Union criticised the city’s slowness, inconsistency, which “are not consistent with the level of seriousness of the wage dispute.”

“The mayor makes all sorts of dazzling promises in the media, but what happens in the negotiation room is in no way consistent with that,” Efling’s chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir stated.

Parents feel the pressure

It’s ten days into the strike, and parents of preschool children are feeling the effects. “It’s starting to take a toll, you’re taking leave to cover it, and working on weekends,” Alexandra Þórlindsdóttir, a parent in the Vesturbær neighbourhood, told RÚV. The effects of the strike on preschool services vary significantly depending on the number of Efling employees and their position. While some preschools are offering part-time care, others are closed entirely while the strike lasts. The neighbourhood of Breiðholt appears to be the most affected.

Over 50% support strike actions

A poll conducted by Maskína on behalf of Efling shows significant support for striking workers. While 59% stated that they strongly or fully support Efling in the wage negotiations, 20% said they were indifferent, and 21% held little or no support. When asked whether they supported Efling’s strike, 56% of respondents strongly or fully supported the strike, 19% were indifferent, and 25% were opposed. The poll was conducted between February 14 and 21 and had 871 respondents from all around the country.

City Turns Down Union Offer, Strike Continues

City of Reykjavík strike

The City of Reykjavík turned down Efling Union’s third contract proposal yesterday, RÚV reports. No further meetings have been scheduled between the parties. Efling members employed by the city continue a general strike, affecting preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and waste management.

Third union offer rejected

A meeting between Efling and city representatives yesterday afternoon ended without a resolution. In a notice published yesterday, Efling expressed disappointment that their third offer had been rejected by the city. The offer proposed paying staff a work-related premium “in recognition of professional responsibility, work load, work-related costs, and other factors.” The premium would vary based on occupation and workplace and would not be included in the base salary for calculating overtime.

A statement from Efling’s negotiation committee harshly criticising the city was published alongside the notice. “We condemn your hypocrisy, silence, and lack of responsibility,” it stated. “Our demands are just. Our fighting spirit is strong. Striking is our right.”

Mayor defends city’s offer

In a radio interview this morning, Efling Director Viðar Þorsteinsson accused Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson of attempting to derail the discussion using “mathematical gymnastics.” The Mayor defended the city’s offer, saying it entails a substantial “correction” of low wages, as Efling is calling for. “People have to understand what is being offered, but instead we continually hear big words, that suggest that no wage hikes were being offered,” the mayor stated.

Efling Union Offers City New Contract Proposal

Efling - Strike - Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir

Efling Union presented a new contract proposal to the City of Reykjavík this morning, RÚV reports. Another meeting between the parties is scheduled for tomorrow. Around 1,850 Efling members who work for the city began a general strike yesterday, affecting Reykjavík’s preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and waste management.

Union and city representatives met this morning with the state mediator for around one and a half hours, their first meeting since February 7. Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir declined to comment on the details of the union’s new offer for the time being. Another meeting is scheduled between the parties tomorrow.

Sólveig Anna told reporters the general strike will continue. There are ISK 3 billion ($23.6m/€21.8m) in Efling’s strike fund, which she says is enough to support a long strike.

Two-Day Workers’ Strike Has Begun

Hallgrímskirkja - Skólavörðuholt -Miðborgin - Reykjavík

Around 1,850 Efling Union members employed by the City of Reykjavík went on strike at 12.30pm today, RÚV reports. It is their third strike action since last week, and the longest yet, set to stand until midnight on Thursday. A contract negotiation meeting between city and union representatives scheduled for yesterday was postponed and is yet to be rescheduled.

The strike actions affect around half of the city’s preschool-attending children, or 3,500, as well as 1,650 individuals who use the Reykjavík’s welfare services. The City’s welfare department received an exception from the strike for the Efling members who perform key services for disabled people and children, as well as services for the elderly both at home and at nursing homes, and emergency services at homeless shelters.

Hjalti J. Guðmundsson, who oversees management and care of city property, says the strike will not affect snow clearing on roads, as that is done by contract workers. It will, on the other hand, affect snow clearing on walking paths and bike lanes. “On bike lanes for example there will be no winter service and on walking paths there will be some reduction. There will also be a reduction [of snow clearing] on lots and that aren’t cleared by contractors, parking lots in front of preschools and primary schools and the like.”

Municipal garbage cans will not be emptied during the strike, nor will garbage be collected from private residences.

Efling workers working for the City of Reykjavík are set to go on strike indefinitely from February 17 if an agreement is not reached.

Reykjavík Preschoolers at Home Today

Around half of Reykjavík’s preschoolers are affected by a worker’s strike today, RÚV reports. Efling Union members who work for the City of Reykjavík are striking for the second time this week, as collective agreement negotiations between the parties have not reached a conclusion. Most of the 1,800 striking workers are employed at schools, including preschools. The city’s welfare department and waste management are also affected by the strike.

Around 3,500 children attending preschools in the city will be affected by the strike today. Preschools that remain open today have split groups so all children attend for half a day, either in the morning or afternoon. Food service is also disrupted in some preschools, meaning children were asked to come with a packed lunch.

Disabled and elderly people affected

The City’s welfare department received an exception from the strike for the Efling members who perform key services for disabled people and children, as well as services for the elderly both at home and at nursing homes, and emergency services at homeless shelters. The strike will nevertheless affect some 1,650 people who depend on services provided by the welfare department. Among the services that will not be performed today are cleaning services in the homes of disabled and elderly people and bathing assistance.

If an agreement is not reached, Efling members will strike again next week, from 12.30pm on Tuesday, February 11 until midnight on Thursday, February 13. An indefinite strike is scheduled from February 17.