21 Aug 2018

Learning support specialists take strike action for first time

1:02 pm on 21 August 2018

More than 500 learning support specialists have walked off the job today for the first time, amid negotiations for better pay and working conditions.

Learning support specialists marched from Parliament to the Ministry of Education. Similar rallies are being held around the country today.

Learning support specialists marched from Parliament to the Ministry of Education. Similar rallies are being held around the country today. Photo: RNZ/ Emma Hatton

The specialists include therapists and psychologists employed by the Ministry of Education to visit primary, secondary and pre-school children with learning difficulties, and set up plans for them.

New Zealand Educational Institute members voted last Monday to strike, after rejecting the governments offer of a two percent pay rise now and a further two percent in March.

The union's lead negotiator Byron Sanders said specialists and their supporters were rallying at Ministry of Education offices around the country.

"We're asking leaders within the sector, for example centre managers, head teachers, school principals and SENCOs [Special Education Needs Co-ordinator] to come out and join us in support, because they know that when they have specialists within their education facilities that can provide support for these children then there's a better outcome for everyone."

Mr Sanders said specialists were asking the government to audit the sector, to gauge what would be an appropriate pay-rise request and what resources would be required to ease workloads.

"We know at the moment there is gross underfunding and the children who require support are not getting it in a timely enough fashion," Mr Sanders said.

"Collectively we do not believe the government's [previous] offer goes far enough to prioritising the needs of children who require additional support in our education system. We're also unable to recruit and retain these key specialists because the remuneration packages are not good enough."

Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard said it was disappointing that the specialists had to resort to strike action.

"No education sector professional wants to take industrial action to get a decent pay deal, however, two percent a year is not an appropriate offer given the cost pressures working people are facing," Mr Huggard said.

"These specialist positions are already over-worked, with a huge increase in children needing extra support coupled with a historical shortage of specialist positions and funding."

Ministry of Education spokesperson Zoe Griffiths said 100 more workers in the sector were currently being recruited and the government remained committed to progressing negotiations with the NZEI.

She said arrangements were in place today to manage urgent appointments as well as supporting schools if there were any traumatic incidents during the strike action.

The action follows last week's first strike in 24 years for about 29,000 primary and intermediate teachers who belong to the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) union.

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