Kindergarten strike in Croatia enters eighth week amid ongoing obstructions

Despite ongoing pressure from local government and management, kindergarten teachers in Biograd na Moru continue their strike

June 25, 2024 by Ana Vračar
SOMK members during a protest in Biograd, 2024. Source: Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia/Facebook

Members of the Trade Union of Education, Media, and Culture (SOMK) at the public kindergarten in Biograd na Moru, Croatia, have entered the eighth week of a strike—a record in this sector. They demand the local administration agree to collective bargaining and harmonize salaries with those in primary education. Mayor Ivan Knez and the kindergarten head have repeatedly refused these demands: their resistance to dialogue is so fierce that the case was mentioned in a parliamentary discussion.

Initially, striking workers were confined to a single room and forbidden from communicating with colleagues or parents. Security guards blocked SOMK president Božica Žilić from interacting with her members. When the union organized a protest, the local administration displayed anti-union banners and smeared the organization and Žilić personally.

Anti-union banners in Biograd, May 2024. Source: Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia/Facebook

“Throughout the strike, workers have faced constant pressure and attempts to deny their legitimate right to fight for dignified wages and better working conditions,” SOMK stated in a press release.

The kindergarten management attempted to use parents to break the strike, falsely blaming the strikers for the cancellation of the end-of-year play, a traditional event for children and families. Mayor Knez also threatened to privatize the kindergarten if the strike continued, which would lead to higher costs for parents and worse conditions for workers.

Read more: Kindergarten workers in Croatia go on strike, face attacks by mayor

As Žilić pointed out on earlier occasions, the privatization of a key component of children’s early education would have devastating consequences. Many parents would not be able to afford the higher prices associated with privatization, and workers would face even worse conditions than they currently do. However, the current administration appears indifferent to respecting national strategies and international guidelines on making early childhood education services accessible to as many children as possible. Previously, they have endorsed budgetary decisions that increased out-of-pocket costs for parents.

The industrial action in Biograd coincided with two other SOMK-supported strikes in Vrsar and Slunj. While all three faced strong resistance and obstruction attempts, the ones in Vrsar and Slunj concluded satisfactorily, with local administrations finally agreeing to income increases. The trade union remains optimistic that this progress lays the groundwork for more productive negotiations in the future.