Ten days ago, with at least one representative from each of Venezuela’s 23 states, some 100 childcare workers gathered for a vigil outside the National Assembly. They vowed they would stay until the government acted on their demands for a living wage, benefits and recognition as workers. Towards the end of the second day of the vigil, just as their anger and frustration mounted, security personnel invited a delegation of ten of them through the gates to meet with members of the National Assembly’s Permanent Commission on Integrated Social Development. Convinced that a struggle they began in 2008 was close to victory, by midday, on the third day of the vigil, nearly all the childcare workers, known as “madres integrales” returned to their families and jobs in states as far away as Tachira.
One of the spokeswomen for the delegation, a 33 year old mother of four from Bolivar state, has been working as a “madre integral”, at a Community “Simoncito” Childcare Center for nine years. We’ll call her Maria. She works full time and has never earned more than 2975 bolivars a month, 70% of the current minimum wage. She arranged for another childcare worker to take care of her own, biological children, while she was away in Caracas. The director of her childcare center filled in for her at work. The journey and vigil was both a financial and emotional sacrifice for Maria, but her spirits were high after an initial meeting with the Assembly’s Commission.
Venezuelanalysis.com asked her if she thought the Commission was taking their demands seriously. Maria answered with confidence, “They had better. We are fighting women.”
She went on to explain that she was encouraged that the Commission proposed setting up a working group that would include representatives of the Ministries of Education and Labor, the Commission and the Madres Integrales themselves. They planned to debate how the Madres Integrales are excluded from the national system of workers rights and to meet the following Thursday, June 5. Maria expected they would resolve the problem. “The members of the working group are all PSUV, (United Social Party of Venezuela, the governing party),” she reported with optimism.
On June 5, delegates representing the Madres Integrales, many from faraway states, once again arrived in Caracas for a second round of talks with the Commission’s new working group. But, without explanation, the Ministry of Education suspended the meeting and no specific date was set for the next meeting. In response to a Venezuelanalysis.com question, “what are the Madres going to do next?” Maria sounded undaunted, “They cannot continue to ignore 25,000 discontented mothers. We will get our rights.”
Women as Workers
The Organic Law of Workers’ Rights guarantees all workers a dignified wage, among other rights. Further, the National Constitution (Article 88) recognizes women’s work in the home as productive, entitling those who work only inside the home to social security. The Organic Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence outlaws 18 forms of gender-based violence—including discriminatory work that denies women the right to economic stability. Nevertheless, the 25,000 women who work in community based childcare centers, known as “Simoncitos Comunitarios”, have never been legally recognized as workers. Therefore, they do not receive minimum wage, food allowances, vacations, medical insurance (free primary and other levels of care is available to all Venezuelans through the Barrio Adentro program), end-of-year bonuses, social security, pensions and a variety of other benefits guaranteed to most workers in Venezuela.
“We feel frustrated,” the letter they wrote to both President Maduro and the President of the National Assembly, said. “Year after year the government increases wages, but we who fulfill the job given to us by the Ministry of Education are not taken into account. We are “Madres Integrales”, some of us with more than 34 years of experience, and our rights are being violated, while we do the respectable work of substitute mothers, psychologists, teachers, nurses and peace mediators….We feel invisible … We ask to be recognized as workers, granting us….our rights to a dignified wage and stability.”
At the vigil, the childcare workers expressed their outrage at being labeled “volunteers” or “assistants”, when they daily work eight-hour shifts, completing the same functions as cooks and other workers covered by the Organic Labor Law. “We must be recognized as workers with rights under the law,” a woman from Apure yelled.
Towards the end of their letter they emphasized the connection between recognizing their rights and the rights of all women. “We are the invisible lever behind the social productive labor force of the nation. As such, we demand to be treated with justice and respect for our conditions as women workers.” A spokeswoman from Miranda told Venezuelanlaysis.com, “If our work is not respected, no women’s work can be respected. The advancement of other mothers in the workforce who need childcare cannot be on our backs.”