10 Nov 2018

'An air of unreality' - ERA slams teacher union's pay demands

10:37 am on 10 November 2018

The Employment Relations Authority has slammed the teachers union's pay demands as "totally unrealistic" and is urging teachers to take the Government's offer.

Families and children were out in force on Queen Street to support teachers on strike.

Families and children were out in force on Queen Street to support teachers on strike. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Despite an improved deal from the Education Ministry following five days of talks, the Educational Institute refused yesterday to call off next week's primary school strikes.

In his recommendations to the parties - released in full by the Ministry yesterday - the authority's chief James Crichton said the Government's offer was "a handsome and competitive proposal in the current fiscal environment".

"My prevailing impression of this facilitation is that NZEI came into the process with a series of proposals which taken in their totality had an air of unreality about them".

The total cost of the union's proposals was around $2.5 billion, which was "an unrealistic impost on any employer, including the Government", he wrote.

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.

The $1.8b difference in the totals highlighted the "total unreality" of the union's claim, Mr Crichton said.

He believed the NZEI's negotiating team would and could have settled had it not been "saddled with totally unrealistic riding instructions".

"It is, in my judgement, simply unrealistic to hold out for further concessions when all the evidence is the Government has gone as far as it will go."

The Government was committed to working with teachers to "gradually" address the sectors needs.

Talks collapsed after the Ministry agreed to fund a half day's paid leave to allow teachers to consider the latest offer, but after consultation with some members, the union demanded a full day's paid leave.

"I was genuinely disappointed the facilitation failed to avert the strike but I stand ready to assist the parties in further facilitation, if that is desired.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart said the union's 30,000 primary teacher and principal members will consider the offer and the ERA recommendations at meetings next week during the rolling strikes.

"We have always said we would take any recommendations and offers back to members, and that is exactly what will happen next week. It will be up to them to decide whether the offers are sufficient to fix the education crisis."

But Lynda Stuart from the Educational Institute is disputing that figure and said their demands were justified.

"We don't think that it's being unreasonable," she said.

"We've always said that we were asking for something more than what was business as usual and in light of the teacher shortage and

Ms Stuart said the union's costing of what they are asking for is about $900million over a two year period.

She said the union will consider the offer and the authority's recommendations during the rolling strikes next week, which have not been called off.

The latest offer by the Ministry of Education was given "at the very last minute", said Ms Stuart.

She said the Educational Institute did look at the practicalities of calling off the strike.

"[The paid union] meetings across the country were at 10am, we had venues booked [and] we could not guarantee that we could get teachers back into classrooms by 12pm," said Ms Stuart.

"We want our teachers to be able to really consider the offer [and] to have the conversations they need to have."

Ms Stuart said a vote on the offer will take place in early December.

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