School support staff have reacted with anger to the Ministry of Education’s decision to not pay up to 6,000 annualised support staff for a fortnight at the end of the annual payment cycle.
The Employment Court upheld the earlier ruling of the Employment Relations Authority that the ministry could not unilaterally reduce the pay of 6,000 annualised* school support staff by 3.7 per cent for all of 2016 because of a payroll anomaly that sees an extra fortnight in the payroll every 11 years.
Hamilton teacher aide Carol Webb was one of many disgusted with the ministry’s response to the ruling – the ministry has announced it will reimburse the back pay then not pay support staff for the first fortnight next February.
“The ministry claims to offer ‘choice’ with all of its funding decisions. But this is not a choice – it’s an ultimatum. We can have our pay docked throughout the year or cut at the end of the year. Support staff make up a third of the education workforce and it just shows the low value the ministry puts on us and our work,” said Ms Webb.
“About 36 per cent of us have our support staff income as the only or primary income in our households. We’re not well paid and have to budget carefully, so this treatment by the ministry is disgusting.”
Christchurch school administrator Kay Addei said, “Reimbursing the back pay then taking it back in one chunk at the end of the financial year is just insulting.
“The ministry has just done what they want to do, and ‘too bad’ for support staff. The minister of education would no doubt cope just fine if she missed a fortnight’s pay, but most of us are struggling to support our families from week to week.”
Ms Addei also said the ministry was trying to divide support staff by offering non-union support staff the option of continuing on reduced pay and not missing a pay day at the end of the year, or receiving the back pay, slightly higher pay for the rest of the year and missing the final fortnight’s pay. Staff remaining on the collective agreement will receive the latter option.
NZEI spokesman Andrew Casidy said support staff should not feel rushed into any decision, as NZEI would be taking the matter back to court to argue the ministry should still be paying on the pay day in February next year.
“Our basic position is if you have chosen annualisation and are paid fortnightly then you should receive a payment every fortnight. Support staff shouldn’t pay the price for the latest Novopay debacle and the ministry’s inability to manage payroll correctly and legally,” he said.
“NZEI is publicly calling on the minister of education to forfeit a fortnight’s pay to highlight the injustice the ministry is imposing on support staff,” said Mr Casidy.
“We’ve offered a number of options during negotiations that would have allowed support staff to be paid on February 1 as they should, but to no avail.”
*Annualisation: Many school support staff work for only 40 weeks of the year. Annualisation allows them to spread their expected income into 26 even fortnightly payments throughout the year. However, there are 365 or 366 days in a year, rather than the 364 days of 26 fortnightly payments. Every 11 years, this adds up to one extra payment that annualised staff receive. The ministry decided to claw back that extra payment during 2016 by reducing wage payments by 3.7 per cent the year.