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Teachers to begin week of strikes

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he was “disappointed” that primary teachers have rejected the ministry’s latest pay offer.

The Primary Teachers Union, NZEI Te Riu Roa rejected the offer on Friday, without putting it to members, in spite of an offer from the Ministry of a half-day’s paid leave for teachers to meet and consider the offer.

NZEI president Lynda Stuart said the offer did not put “children at the heart”.

"What we asked for had children at the heart - for example more time to teach and smaller class sizes. This is something that our members now need to decide,” she said.

But Hipkins said the Government could not address both teachers’ wage demands and requests for smaller class sizes. 

“To make even a modest change in class sizes it costs hundreds of millions of dollars, the teachers made it very clear through their negotiations that their first priority was salaries, so that is where the Government has put the extra money,” Hipkins said. 

The strike will last the whole week, with each region striking for one day, beginning in Auckland on Monday and ending in Wellington on Friday. 

The offer rejected included 3 percent pay increases each year over three years, and a new top pay step. It also raised the salary cap for teachers with lower qualifications.

Hipkins said the average increase for teachers would be $9500 over three years. Most primary teachers will now be earning over $85,000 per year within three years, with some teachers earning as much as $90,000. 

Hipkins urged the union to call off the strike.

“We think the strike action certainly should be called off while they consider the new offer that’s been put forward,” he said.

NZEI took the unusual position of calling a strike before putting the offer to its members. The offer, with the Ministry’s additional offer of half a day’s paid leave was made late on Thursday. 

The union had meeting venues booked next week for strike action around the country, which it said it could not reschedule at such late notice. Venues had also been booked close to midday, which meant teachers needed the whole day to consider the offer, rather than just half a day.

Stuart also said the offer did not differ enough from previous offers to justify calling off the strike.

"The strike action still stands as the offer is not substantially different enough to give us the mandate to revoke the strike notice,” Stuart said.

But she also said teachers would use next week’s strike to consider the offer and recommendations made by the facilitator. Meaning that, unusually, teachers will be striking against an offer whilst also actively considering it. 

But Hipkins said there was no chance of extra money being put on the table. 

"I'm not sure what the NZEI's strategy here is. If they think the Government is going to continue to offer more and more and more money, they're out of luck," Hipkins said.

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