15 Aug 2018

Teachers strike: Education system at 'crisis point'

7:56 am on 15 August 2018

About 29,000 teachers and principals are on strike today, forcing the closure of most of the country's primary and intermediate schools.

Teacher Christine Sangster.

Teacher Christine Sangster said she would be carrying the school's banner in today's rally in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Teachers who are members of the NZEI union are taking day-long industrial action and the union has organised rallies in all the main centres and many regional towns.

Read more: Teachers strike: What you need to know.

NZEI lead negotiator Louise Green said the education system was at "a crisis point" and the union hoped to send very strong message to government that it was time to put money into solving the problem.

Watch: Louise Green speaking to Morning Report's Guyon Espiner

The union wants a 16 percent pay rise over two years, special education co-ordinators in every school, and smaller class sizes.

Ms Green said the 14 percent increase offered applied to a small proportion of staff, and the majority would receive 2.5 percent a year over three years.

"That goes nowhere near what is needed to attract people to our profession and to keep them there."

She said there were 40 percent less people entering the profession now than in 2010.

Ms Green said conditions need to change and was not ruling out another strike by teachers if they had to.

'We need things to change'

Staff gathered at South Wellington Intermediate School to draw placards for today's union rally in Wellington said they were fighting back after nine years of frustration.

Teacher Matt Boucher said his sign "Still fighting an 8 hour day" referred to teachers' long working hours.

"The amount of workload that we have if we want to do a good job and we want to meet all the demands that are put on us, it takes far longer than an eight-hour day and more than a 40-hour week," he said.

Mr Boucher said teachers showed how determined they were to win better conditions when they voted to replace the originally-planned half-day strike with a full-day.

Teacher Matt Boucher with his banner.

Teacher Matt Boucher with his banner. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"That shows that actually at this point in time the union members are feeling stronger about it and are more willing to fight for things than the union leaders expected," he said.

Mr Boucher said he hoped the strike would result in a better offer from the Education Ministry and head-off the growing shortage of teachers.

"The reality is that they have a crisis on their hands whether they want to admit or not, and if they don't sort it out then teachers will continue to vote with their feet and go to other professions and that crisis is only going to get worse."

Across the table, Jamie Hoare, said his strike placard was based on the "learning intentions" used in the classroom by teachers every day.

"We use an acronym called WALT which stands for 'we are learning to', and I'm using that to say 'We are learning to respect our teachers' as a national learning intention," he said.

Teacher Jaime Hoare.

Teacher Jaime Hoare. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Hoare said he was unhappy with the way the collective agreement negotiations were going.

"I am starting to feel a little bit angry about it. I've been teaching eight years now and over that time have felt like the salary hasn't met the expectations, also the time demands have increased enormously over that time and we just don't have the resources to do our job."

The school's principal, Traci Liddall, drew a placard that said she was "Seriously SWISed off".

Ms Liddall said teachers were angry: "It's been nine years of belt tightening and not meeting the needs of students or teachers and now we need things to change," she said.

Teachers were determined to keep taking action until they got what they and their students needed, she said.

Principal Traci Liddall.

Principal Traci Liddall. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"I'm not optimistic that we'll get it this time. But I am optimistic ultimately that we will get what we need because this is only the start. If it doesn't work this time, it'll work next time or the next time or the next time and we are prepared to strike more than once."

Teacher Christine Sangster said she would be carrying the school's banner in today's rally in Wellington.

She marched the last time primary teachers went on strike 24 years ago.

"That worked. Suddenly they were taking us seriously after that one. But I think this one's going to take more time," she said.

"What we're trying to do is overcome a heck of a lot that's occurred prior to the Labour Party coming into power where teachers have been denigrated, they've been overworked, under-appreciated, underpaid."

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