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School canteens have been calling for help for many years. The pay scales are lousy. Not only do young people not flock here, but they are not at all interested in working in canteens. School meals thus fall mainly on women of pre-retirement age.
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MŠMT) now wants to eliminate thousands of vacant “non-pedagogical” positions. And it is aimed at cookbooks. But canteens do not leave job vacancies for nothing. In short, they fail to occupy them.
“There is no staff in the entire gastronomic market. I have now found myself in a situation where I am unable to fill two jobs, even though I would like to. The salary tables are simply a mess,” explains the director of the Brno school canteen, Marta Mandincová.
The example of Poděbrad shows how it can turn out in canteens where the personnel bottom is reached. Last school year, the Secondary School of Agriculture lost several female cooks, which meant that there was no one to cook. Because of this, the local special school was left without lunches, for whose pupils there was also cooking in the canteen there.
“The basic problem is the quality of the staff. If we have the promised 130 percent of the average wage – but in reality it’s 112 percent – and the operating staff goes down, we won’t be able to keep anyone,” estimates Pavel Znamínko, director of the Poděbrady Secondary School of Agriculture.
In this school year, it is not possible to cook for all pupils even in Rakovník. “We are issuing a concession for the operator of the canteen,” explains the Councilor for Education of the Central Bohemian Region, Milan Vácha (STAN), that the operation of the kitchen should be taken over by a private person.
Who else is cooking?
School catering teeters on the precipice. It has been completely underfunded for many years – a cook with no previous experience has a starting table salary of 16,130 crowns gross, i.e. 1,170 crowns below the minimum wage.
But now the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports is coming in with a drastic cut of 8,000 places. At the same time, the Ministry of Finance proposed to cancel even 30,000 positions, mainly in canteens.
“They are already cooking in a limited number of canteens because they are missing one or two female cooks. But this way they will definitely lose their places,” the executive director of the Association of School Canteens Karel Jahod complains about the ministry’s procedure.
At the same time, vacant positions are also important for raising the salaries of other workers. It is a non-systematic step, but in many cases it is the only way to ensure that someone enters the kitchen at all.
“Instead of four cooks, a school may have only three, for example, but they draw money as if there were four,” adds regional councilor Vácha, adding that the school management is thus improving the dismal salaries of cooks.
The effort to save on unoccupied places can therefore encourage the departure of existing cooks in some dining rooms. Let alone succeed in attracting new workers.
School catering is also a big topic for parents, who push for the preparation of quality food for their children. This includes, for example, diet meals, but all this against the background of miserable table salaries and a maximum price for lunch of around 50 crowns (the limit varies by a few crowns depending on the age of the diner).
“I would understand if the vacant positions were abolished and the money saved was dispersed among the remaining positions to make the jobs more attractive. Although the state will save some money in this way, it will not get rid of the problem that I have been pointing out for years – there is a big risk that school meals will completely collapse,” warns Jahoda.
Rejuvenate? Just hard
List When presenting the budget priorities of the Minister of Education Mikuláš Bek (STAN), the reports asked whether the deletion of vacant positions would threaten the stability of school canteens. Precisely because they often supplement the salaries of other cooks.
“This will not endanger those who cook in schools, but rather pedagogical positions, where school directors have poured resources,” the minister contradicted that something like this would happen.
But the reality is that school meals have been the first to be hit by austerity measures for many years. Non-teaching staff are usually the last to be added. Mostly due to the fact that tariff wages will fall below the minimum wage level.
Working in school canteens may suit some people in terms of working hours, but it is very physically demanding, and due to poor financial conditions, it fails to attract younger applicants.
The head of the school canteen, Miloslava Vampolová, tried to rejuvenate the team in this way, but none of the new employees could last in the kitchen due to the high workload.
“Then I looked for older colleagues,” she adds, adding that she has added two 50-year-olds to the staff.
How the school catering situation will be resolved in a few years, when the older cooks retire, no one has yet figured out.