Impasse between teachers and Ministry of Education shows no sign of thawing

COLLETTE DEVLIN/STUFFChris Hipkins offers his view on NZEI’s decision to strike before asking its members to consider a new pay deal.

Teachers and principals start from Monday a week-long rolling strike across the country in response to the Ministry of Education’s pay offer. Teachers also took industrial action for a day in August.

The action is going ahead despite the Employment Relations Authority strongly recommending on Friday that teachers accept the ministry’s latest offer.

The strike is also going ahead before teachers have voted on the latest offer.

Govt to teachers: there’s no more cash
Teachers’ strike: What you need to know
Teachers’ ‘unrealistic’ expectations
Teachers ready to strike

New Zealand Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart said union members would vote on whether to accept the offer – after the strike.

Stuart wouldn’t be drawn on which way she thought the vote would go, but it seemed the consensus was teachers weren’t happy with the latest offer. Stuart couldn’t predict how long it would take to resolve the disagreement.

“What we’re trying to do is give membership the opportunity to really say what they think, to really consider this opportunity,” she said.

Primary and intermediate school teachers start a week of rolling strike action across the country from Monday.
MURRAY WILSON/STUFFPrimary and intermediate school teachers start a week of rolling strike action across the country from Monday.

The union and the ministry undertook facilitation led by the Employment Relations Authority. The authority released the outcome of those talks on Friday, saying it “strongly recommended” the union accept the ministry’s package, and the Government had “clearly gone as far as it will go”.

The ministry’s package would cost about $700 million over four years.

Most teachers would get between $9500 and $11,000 extra annually in their salaries by 2020.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said on Friday he was disappointed teachers would still strike next week without letting union members vote first.

But the strike had long been planned and Wayne Jenkins, principal at Palmerston North’s Ross Intermediate School, did not share Hipkins’ views.

“How the ministry could expect NZEI to not strike when they released the facilitation announcement on Friday afternoon and the strike was due to start on Monday does not make sense,” Jenkins said.

It had been a long process, but Jenkins said it wasn’t about their pay packet.

“We’d rather not do this, but at some point we’ve got to stand up and say this is bigger than me.”

KEVIN STENT/STUFFNZEI president Lynda Stuart is hoping rolling strikes won’t alienate parents.

Jenkins said the ministry had introduced another salary step for teachers in the latest offer, but the big problems – teacher workload and class sizes – hadn’t been looked at.

He said if the Government could fix those problems, even gradually, teachers would consider accepting the offer.

“They can find money when they need to find money. If they can’t find money for the kids, what are they in government for?”

The Government this month announced funding for 600 learning support roles across the country, which Stuart said was necessary.

She said parents had been “highly supportive” of teachers.

The ministry’s secretary for education Iona Holsted said the offer was worth $698m, up by $129m from the previous offer.

Holsted said the ministry had expected teachers to consider the new offer before any strike.

“Settling pay negotiations with the NZEI is important and we have done all we can to reach agreement. We know strike action is disruptive for children’s learning and for parents.”