Education

Teachers overwhelmingly reject pay offer

Primary teachers and principals have voted “overwhelmingly” to reject the Ministry of Education’s latest offer, a move that could lead to further strike action.

The decision by New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Rui Roa members was announced on Wednesday.

Teachers participated in a day-long nationwide strike on August 15, after rejecting the ministry’s initial offer. It was the first strike by primary teachers in 24 years.

Since then, the union and ministry have gone back to the negotiating table, and on September 11, the Government made a second offer.

The updated offer included an increase to the base salary scale by 3 percent each year for the next three years. New teachers would have a starting rate of $49,419, increasing to $50,902 (2019) then $52,429 (2020). Mid-grade teachers would receive $61,410, increasing to $63,252 next year and $65,149 in 2020. And teachers at the top of the scale would receive $82,992 in 2020.

Principals at schools with fewer than 100 students would see their base salary increase by 3 percent each year for three years. And at schools with more than 100 students, principals would receive a base salary increase of 4.5 percent for the next two years, then 4.4 per cent in 2020.

The revised offer did not include funding for supporting children with additional learning needs or provisions for reducing workloads or class sizes.

In an email to members, NZEI president Lynda Stuart said: “The results are in. Teachers, and your principal colleagues, have resoundingly voted to reject the Ministry’s second offers.”

Stuart told Newsroom teachers and principals had sent “a very clear message”.

“We’re not overestimating when we say there is a crisis in education ... what we’re seeing is that our teachers have had enough.”

Teachers had waited a long time to have the issues addressed, and the situation had reached crisis level, with unmanageable student-to-teacher ratios, she said.

“A significant part of the claim is about teachers having the time to teach and principals having the time to lead.”

Union lead negotiator Liam Rutherford said the offer fell short across the board.

There was a current teacher shortage, and without a significant change to pay and conditions, the industry would not be able to attract and retain the teachers it needed, he said.

What was currently a crisis could become a disaster, if the ministry did not amend the offer to address the issues affecting teachers.

Next week, NZEI holds its annual conference in Rotorua, with 400 teacher leaders and members representing the workforce. Representatives will discuss member feedback and possible options during the conference, and any proposed action will go to another secret ballot next term.

Stuart said this could mean another strike.

In her email to members she signed off: “Nothing worth fighting for ever comes easy, but if we stand together we can achieve great things.”

'We can only do so much'

Acting Education Minister Tracey Martin said the Government understood teachers’ frustrations and challenges, but was disappointed at the decision to reject the offer.

“It’s disappointing because we really want to get back together and move forward.”

Martin said teachers had reached a level of frustration with the current working conditions, and she wasn’t trying to take that away from them, “but we can only do so much”.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the decision to reject the latest offer was unfortunate, given it was bigger than the previous three offers under the former government. The offer was worth a total of $500 million.

“We’re doing the best we can, but out there isn’t the acceptance that we can’t do everything at once, and there needs to be that acceptance. You can’t do everything at once in one budget,” he said.

“The reality is, the Government is doing all it can in this area ... We’re not faking it here.”

Meanwhile National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye said she was concerned about families potentially facing further disruption if teachers go ahead with another strike.

“The Government has raised expectations and needs to get back to the table and prioritise funding for teachers. The Government also needs to work with schools and parents to ensure there are adequate supervision arrangements for children during the strikes.”

The latest development in teacher pay negotiations comes at a tumultuous time for industrial relations.

Secondary teachers are also beginning pay negotiations, meanwhile police officers have rejected their first collective offer from NZ Police.

And earlier in the year, about 30,000 nurses went on strike, before accepting an offer worth $530 million.

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