Mega-strike calls government money bluff

Around 8000 educators are expected to march along Queen Street today, Wednesday 29, for the largest combined teaching strike we have ever seen on our shores. Upwards of 50,000 will march around the country. 

While the Education Minister buckles down on his assertion that there’s simply no more money to offer teachers, industrial action seeks to call his bluff. 

In an interview with Simon Shepherd, Education Minister Chris Hipkins claimed that while teachers are looking for a pay rise, so are other sectors including doctors, nurses and the police. He claims the government needs to reserve funds to cater to everyone but for educators and many parents and families around the country also supporting the strike, this reasoning feels like an excuse. 

Ultimately, a system that cannot afford to pay its teachers fairly without undermining nurses or the police is not an effective system. Surely, New Zealand can figure out a way to give its workers the work/life balance they deserve. Surely, the money is there. 

Helena Tanuvasa, board chair at one of New Zealand’s poorest schools, told NZ Herald that many school parents would join their teachers in a march up Queen St in Auckland during the mega-strike, even though these parents earn far less money than a newly qualified teacher. Under the government’s latest offer, a new primary teacher would earn $52,429 by 2021 and top-scale educators would earn $85,481. 

She said: “Of course I will never earn that much, but they are qualified and they have got the experience that is required, so why shouldn’t they be paid what they deserve?” 

As teachers rightly argue, these proposed figures barely catch the profession up on the last 10 years’ of increased workload and cost of living. There’s also the teacher shortage to contend with: how can schools attract new teachers without competitive salaries, or at least a healthy professional lifestyle? Teacher wellbeing, mental health and stress have all become hot button areas for concern over the last few years. 

“Teachers need more time to teach, a significant pay jolt to attract people into the profession and more support for children with additional learning needs,” advocates NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart.

Why am I striking?

Year 7 teacher from Somerville Intermediate School, Vanessa Hancock shared: “I am striking because I’m so damn proud to belong to a profession that is promoted to the world by the government as being first class and yet the reality is we’re forced to fight for the scraps of the public service budget.

“Jacinda and John and that lot demand from us excellence and love to say to the rest of the world how highly our education system is ranked but they are not willing to pay for it.  The expect so much from us – they just take, take, take and we just keep delivering and get paid peanuts!  Time for the monkeys to fight back!”

Despite various media outlets fretting about the 800,000 public school students who may be disrupted during the mega-strike, all union polling indicates parents and the public are in strong support of the strike action. Who knew the majority of people would like to see teachers earn a fair wage?

It is the first time in our national history that primary, secondary and area school teachers have embarked on a combined strike.

MoE’s Deputy Secretary for Early Learning and Student Achievement, Ellen MacGregor-Reid released a controversial statement, arguing that the Ministry’s latest offer is enough an that strike action is disruptive. The only outcome, she alludes, will be that “NZEI [is] invited to return to facilitated bargaining with the Employment Relations Authority and the PPTA [is] also invited to begin facilitated bargaining”. However, continued bargaining doesn’t seem to be hitting the mark for educators.

Teaching veteran Richard Smith commented: “I am not surprised by the Ministry spokesperson’s comments, however. They just don’t seem to get it. We need a pay scale that will encourage our younger teaches to stay longterm in teaching. People like me with 50yrs service will be a rarity in the future; our children need a balance of experience and youth as their teachers.

“To me, it is not good economics to train teachers at great cost and then see them leave the profession after 5 years because they can either earn more in another profession or overseas. We have to make it an attractive proposition for young and more mature people to want to enter teaching, especially at this time of huge changes relating to technology developments which are beginning to impact on the job market.”

With the strike set in stone and tensions rising between government inaction and public support, we expect some level of change this year.

PPTA president Jack Boyle says, “Our prime minister, Jacinda Ardern knows the situation in primary and secondary schools isn’t business as usual. She knows we want to be working with students in our classrooms. She knows we don’t want to be in the position where we have to take industrial action.

“We urge her to do the right thing and come up with the funding so that our students continue to have the educational opportunities that they need and deserve, with great, well-trained and well supported teachers to provide those opportunities.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart says, “It’s time for the government to prioritise giving teachers time to teach and to lead. To address the education crisis we need to ensure teaching is a viable long-term career choice. If we’re going to make Aotearoa the best place in the world to raise a child, the government needs to find a solution – now.”

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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