Education

ECE teachers down tools for the first time

Early childhood education teachers are downing tools for their first ever stop-work meeting

On Friday morning, teachers covered by the Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement (ECECA) and the Barnardos collective agreement will hold paid union meetings to discuss the next steps towards achieving pay parity with teachers in kindergartens and primary schools.

While those union members attending the meetings are only in the hundreds - working across about 130 centres - the ECECA sets the minimum rate for the whole ECE sector.

As part of the Government’s Budget, delivered in May, the minimum pay rate for all qualified ECE teachers was brought in-line with the minimum rates paid to their kindergarten counterparts (working in centres run by Kindergarten Associations).

This amounted to a $151.1 million boost, via an increase to education and care service rates.

And the payrise, which kicked in at the start of the month, lifted the pay of about 17,000 qualified ECE teachers.

The minimum rate for all ECE, Barnardos and kindergarten teachers is now $49,862.

But that was only the first step towards pay parity, and a significant pay gap remains across the salary scale.

These early childhood centre teachers are currently paid an average of 24 percent less than those working in kindergartens and primary schools with the same qualifications.

For example, the maximum rate for an ECE teacher with a teaching diploma is $55,529 (under the current collective agreement). But for a teacher with the same qualification working at a kindergarten, the maximum rate is $83,000 - a difference of $27,471 or 49.5 percent.

For those with a three-year ECE degree, the difference in maximum rates is $15,000 or 23.3 percent.

And the difference in the overall maximum rate is currently $16,240 or 22.9 percent, with ECE teachers able to earn up to $70,760 and their kindergarten counterparts up to $87,000.

“If we value children, then we need to start valuing ECE.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa collective agreement negotiation team member Anneke Bhat said the Government needed to intervene and set out a clear plan towards pay parity.

Because the system is not state-run, members covered by the collective agreement do not negotiate directly with the Government, or the Ministry of Education, like teachers in primary or secondary schools. Instead, the negotiations are between employers and members.

The employers in both the ECECA and Barnardos agreement were clear that they would return to the table if the Government provided more funding, Bhat said.

“They want to see pay parity too.”

Teachers didn’t expect the pay gap to be eliminated in one go, she said.

But there needed to be a clear plan from the Government on how the gap would be fixed.q

“Early childhood education is broken and we need the Government to step in. The teacher shortage is only going to get worse as the pay gap widens – and that’s not good for children. 

“If we value children, then we need to start valuing ECE.”

The minister of education referred questions to the ministry. But the ministry said it was not a part of the negotiations.

“We believe that teachers doing the same job, with the same qualifications deserve the same pay."

In a recent online post regarding pay parity, The Early Childhood Council - an industry association representing private and community ECE providers from 1300 centres - said it had long been calling for the gap to be closed.

“We believe that teachers doing the same job, with the same qualifications deserve the same pay,” the post said.

But said the current funding model was broken, and the viability of some centres would be in question if funding increases from the Government failed to meet the pay increases providers were obligated to give staff.

“Even worthy attempts to address the widening pay gap between teachers in kindergartens and early learning centres has revealed systemic issues.”

Like NZEI, the council called on the Government to share its long-term strategy for achieving pay parity. 

It also said the Government needed to explain how it would address the funding shortfall for some centres, and how ECE teacher parity efforts would keep pace as Kindergarten teachers’ pay also increased.

However, the council's chief executive Peter Reynolds said he disagreed with using industrial action to achieve parity.

“ECE is about the children, and recognising the worth of a teacher to do a great job with little learners in their first 1,000 days, not stop work meetings.

"Try explaining why a centre has to close during the day to a two-year-old. And try explaining to a parent why their hard-earned fees should be mis-used like this."

The stop-work meeting, and the continued push for pay parity, comes at a time when the early learning and care sector is under significant pressure.

The sector has long had issues with teacher supply, teacher retention, low wages and poor working conditions, as well as problems with overcrowding and the quality of care and education provided to young New Zealanders.

These problems are now in the spotlight after being exacerbated by the Covid-19 lockdown, and have led to calls for a wider system overhaul from across the sector.

Friday's industrial action means some centres, including Collectively Kids, Barnardos and other independent centres, will close for about two hours.

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