SCHOOLS across the Eastern Bay will shut on May 29 as primary school teachers and principals, as well as high school teachers, embark on joint strike action.
The joint strike will see the largest ever industrial action by New Zealand teachers, covering almost 50,000 members across the two unions and impacting 2000 schools countrywide.
This is the third strike by primary school teachers, who say the Government has failed to address their concerns, while high school teachers have indicated this may be the start of rolling action across several weeks if the impasse with the Ministry of Education is not resolved.
The announcement on Sunday came after teachers and principals voted last week on whether to accept or reject the education ministry’s fourth offer – a $698 million pay improvement package for primary teachers and principals and a $500m package for secondary teachers.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the $1.2 billion pay offer was one of the largest on offer across the public sector.
Secondary school principals are in separate talks with the ministry.
Opotiki Primary School principal Tony Howe weighed in on the upcoming strike, stating the movement was not just about a pay rise.
“The strike isn’t about the pay offer, it’s about the other conditions,” he said.
Mr Howe said focus for many teachers and schools was on support for students with learning or behavioural issues.
“There’s a lack of experts to help, like there aren’t enough speech and language experts to help kids.”
He said in schools, generally learning issues could be resolved by teachers and trying out a variety of solutions.
“Teachers can brainstorm ideas, and often one of them does work.
“If we’re well-resourced, we can usually get there, but behaviour is very, very tricky,” he said. “All schools want a SNCO, a Special Needs Co-ordinator.”
Mr Howe said this could be on a full or part-time basis, dependant on school size, but it was necessary to have one.
“At the moment, we get no time allocation,” he said.
Mr Howe said primary schools were also pushing for the same terms as secondary schools, which applied to many benefits across the board.
He explains that primary school teachers are allocated two days’ release per term and are being offered half a day extra, while secondary school teachers are allocated 10 days’ release per term.
“We used to have parity with secondary schools,” he said.
Mr Howe said in low income communities, low decile school positions should be made more attractive for staff.
“Low decile schools struggle to attract staff, so how do you make it attractive?” he said.
Better conditions and potentially higher pay for low decile schools compared to high decile schools needed to be discussed.
“We know which is the tougher job, because less people apply for the [low decile] job,” he said.
The two teacher unions, NZEI and PPTA [Post Primary Teachers Association] are encouraging parents and the public to join them at public events around the country.
PPTA president Jack Boyle said teachers did not take strike action lightly.
“We would rather be with our kids in our classrooms. We want a positive outcome.
It is hugely disappointing that we have reached this point. We want to work with the Government to agree solutions that make teaching the attractive career it should be,” he said.