New offer must improve conditions, teachers say

The AM Show 27/09/2018

Better pay offers won't stop teachers striking unless they also address working conditions, a principal has said.

Members of the New Zealand Educational Institute, which represents primary school teachers, on Wednesday rejected the Government's latest offer of a 9.3 percent increase over three years.

They want 16 percent over two years and a dramatic improvement in working conditions.

We need to have people wanting to come into this profession.

"It's not just about the money - it's about recruitment of staff," Target Rd School principal and head of the Auckland Primary Principals' Association Helen Varney told The AM Show on Thursday.

"We are in a crisis, and we need to have people wanting to come into this profession. They're not coming into the profession because the remuneration is not attractive."

At her school, she says they used to have a roster of about 20 relievers that could be called upon - now they have two, so classes keep getting split up.

"Our students will have several different teachers in front of them on any given day."

And even when the class is in front of their usual teacher, Ms Varney says the growing number of students with special needs, or who don't speak English as their first language, is wearing teachers out.

"The evidence is out there that teachers leave after, or within, the first five years of teaching. One of the main reasons is pay. The second reason is around work conditions."

The Government's offer would have seen a starting teacher on about $55,000. Ms Varney said while that's a reasonable offer, without an improvement in working conditions, it wouldn't be enough to keep people in the job.

Primary school teachers' pay has fallen behind over the past few decades. Even if they got the 16 percent they want, they'd still be paid less than they were 20 years ago, when inflation is taken into account.

The average pay for a beginning primary teacher has gone up about 60 percent since 1998, trailing average wage - up 97 percent - and minimum wage, up 125 percent.

Ms Varney says teachers are keeping their options open about what action they'll take in term four.

"Striking is one of them. Rolling striking. It could be working to rule. It could be an option where a staffer only works on specific aspects of the curriculum."

She says teachers don't strike on a whim.

"I have to really think deeply about striking. It has a huge impact on my community. I have a wonderful community - the majority of my families work. They work in positions where if they take a day off work, they don't get paid. So for me to strike, it has a huge impact on them. I don't want to impact them - I want the Government to make this decision."

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters told Newshub the Government is doing "all it can", and it was "unfortunate" teachers rejected the best offer they've had in years.

A nationwide strike in August was the first of its kind in 24 years.

Watch the full interview with Helen Varney above.

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