Vienna kindergartens partially closed as staff protest work conditions

Some kindergartens in the Austrian capital were closed on Tuesday as staff took to the streets to demand better conditions and more staff.

Tables and chairs in a closed kindergarten
Kindergartens were closed as staff protested for better working conditions and more assistants. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

Kindergarten staff in Vienna staged a protest in Votiv Park in the north of the city to demand better working conditions and more staff in childcare facilities.

The action will impact private kindergartens in the capital (excluding company kindergartens) and affected facilities will be closed between 6am and 12.30pm.

“The employees are angry because they have been ignored by the federal government for years,” said Manfred Obermüller, Chairman of Younion, a trade union representing professions including education staff, in a statement.

“We are continuing on the tried and tested route of reconciliation, and are negotiating persistently regarding kindergartens. I am very happy that our negotiation partners are taking employees’ problems very seriously. The federal government should see Vienna as an example,” he said.

A demonstration in Votiv Park began at 10am and further protests are planned for Thursday near the Ministry of Education on Vienna’s Minoritenplatz in the city centre.

Parents were notified about the strike in September and public kindergarten facilities remain open due to the legal obligation to operate.

Kindergartens in Vienna

Compared to other federal states in Austria, Vienna provides the largest range of childcare with the longest opening hours and fewest days of closures.

The City of Vienna is also planning to introduce 200 new language teachers in kindergartens to bring the total number to 500 by 2024.

Additionally, assistants in kindergartens will work 40 hours a week (up from 20) from September 2022.

This is to ensure kindergarten teachers have enough assistants throughout the working day.

What do the political parties say?

The Vienna branch of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) said the goal is to have the “best education” for children in Vienna and called on the federal government to do the same.

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in Vienna stated their “full support” of the action and Education Spokesman Harald Zierfuß said the concerns of kindergarten staff “must finally be taken seriously”.

The ÖVP is calling for reduced group sizes in kindergartens and financial equality between public and private facilities.

The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) called for higher wages for kindergarten teachers to stop staff from moving out of Vienna.

The Vienna Greens also expressed support for the kindergarten staff “so that every child can receive the best education and support”.

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What is Austria’s Mutter-Kind-Pass and how is it changing?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass is hitting the headlines as the Austrian Federal Government plans a reform of the scheme. Here's how it works now, why it is necessary and how it will change in the future.

What is Austria’s Mutter-Kind-Pass and how is it changing?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass (Mother-Child-Pass) was launched in Austria in 1974 to ensure the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies.

It grants pregnant women free access to essential examinations and consultations, and serves as a record of healthcare.

But big changes are on the cards for the pass as a digitization reform is planned for the coming years, while disputes continue about the cost of the scheme.

Here’s what you need to know about how the Mutter-Kind-Pass works, why it’s necessary and how it will change. 

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What is the Mutter-Kind-Pass?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass is a small, yellow passport-style document to provide and track healthcare for pregnant women and young children in Austria.

It is issued to a woman when a pregnancy is confirmed by a doctor and contains records of medical examinations during pregnancy. As well as health check-ups for the child up to five years of age.

The Mutter-Kind-Pass exists to ensure pregnant women and children get the necessary medical care they need.

For example, women in Austria are entitled to five medical check-ups throughout their pregnancy including blood tests, internal examinations, ultrasound scans and consultations with a midwife.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Who can get the Mutter-Kind-Pass and how much does it cost?

Any pregnant woman living in Austria can get the Mutter-Kind-Pass (and subsequent health examinations) for free.

However, all examinations must take place with a doctor that is registered with a health insurance company in Austria.

Women without health insurance need a confirmation of entitlement from the Austrian health insurance fund that is responsible for the area where they live.

This is a required step before any examinations can take place free of charge.

Why is the pass necessary?

The Mutter-Kind-Pass and its mandatory examinations are primarily used to detect any illnesses or possible complications early. 

The expected date of delivery is also entered into the Mutter-Kind-Pass, so the document is needed to receive maternity pay in Austria.

Additionally, proof of examinations are required to receive the full entitlement to childcare allowance (Kinderbetreuungsgeld). This means the pass should be taken to every maternity-related appointment, as recommended by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse.

How is the Mutter-Kind-Pass being reformed?

On Wednesday 16th November, Minister for Women and Family Affairs Susanne Raab (ÖVP) and Minister of Health Johannes Rauch (Greens) announced a reform of the Mutter-Kind-Pass.

The most notable change will be a transition from the paper booklet to a digital app in 2024, as well as new services and a name change to the Eltern-Kind-Pass (Parent-Child-Pass).

Raab said: “In addition to the services in the area of ​​health care, we will introduce parent advice, which should be a compass for the new phase of life for new parents.”

The new services will include counselling, an extra consultation with a midwife, an additional ultrasound, hearing screenings for newborns, nutritional and health advice, and multilingual information in digital form.

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

In the future, parents-to-be and new parents will also be offered parenting advice when they have their first child, for example on the compatibility of employment and childcare, on the division of parental leave or on the effects of part-time work on pensions.

“The mother-child pass has been an essential part of maternal and child health in Austria for decades. Now we have managed together to further develop this important instrument in a contemporary form”, said Rauch.

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The implementation of the parent-child passport is a comprehensive, multi-year project and will begin with digitisation from next year.

The annual budget for the Mutter-Kind-Pass is currently €62 million and an additional €10 million from EU funds has been allocated to cover the cost of the reforms. 

However, there have been debates in recent months about the general cost of the pass. 

As a result there are ongoing negotiations between insurance companies and the Medical Association about the reimbursement of fees for providing healthcare and examinations.

READ ALSO: ‘Better and cheaper’: What foreigners really think about childcare in Austria

Der Standard reports that the Medical Association is threatening to discontinue the Mutter-Kind-Pass at the end of the year if an agreement on doctors fees cannot be reached. If that were to happen, expectant mothers would have to pay for examinations.

Currently, doctors receive €18.02 per examination and the Association is calling for an 80 percent increase.