12 Nov 2018

Teachers defend strike decision

5:11 pm on 12 November 2018

Primary school teachers and principals are defending their union's decision to continue with this week's series of one-day strikes despite an improved offer from the Education Ministry and strong criticism from the Employment Relations Authority.

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Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Some took to social media and school websites to express anger at the ministry and the authority, and to explain why they wanted a better offer from the government.

"The stunt pulled by the Ministry of Education to make a late offer last Thursday was just far too little, too late. It still does not address workload issues," wrote one teacher.

"The conditions around classroom release, and extra support for students have been ignored completely," wrote another.

A teacher working overseas wrote: "I'm a kiwi teacher working overseas. There is so little incentive to come home. Good luck with strike."

Their comments were prompted by last week's offer from the Education Ministry, which improved the four year value of its proposal from $569 million to $698m by giving teachers with diplomas access to the same top rate of pay as those with degrees, and by raising the top rate of pay for those with postgraduate qualifications. The core of the offer remained unchanged with three consecutive pay rises of three percent each.

The ministry's offer was made at the end of four days of bargaining mediated by the the Employment Relations Authority.

The authority recommended the Educational Institute accept the offer and said the union's claim was totally unrealistic.

The Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, later said the government had no more money to add to the deal.

The principal of Ridgway School in Wellington, Kathryn Smith, used her blog to explain to the school community why the ministry's offer was inadequate and to correct figures she said misrepresented the scale of the offer.

"It was suggested there was going to be an average increase for teachers of around $11,000. When I got out my calculator and actually worked out what it would be for a teacher at the top of the scale, so that's an experienced teacher, it was more like $7000 and it would take three years to get that," she said.

Ms Smith said she wanted to tell parents that the union's claim was not just about money, but also about workload.

"There is absolutely nothing I can see in the latest offer from the government that is going to address those workload issues," she said.

Ms Smith said teachers at her school felt that their concerns were not being taken seriously.

"The teachers I work with are feeling disappointed and they're also feeling a little bit insulted."

Hamilton teacher Melanie Dorrian said she used twitter to express her disappointment that the ministry's offer did not cover workloads.

"The workload has become unmanageable in the last ten to 15 years. It's gradually crept up and it's just beyond ridiculous now. We're having teachers leaving because they can't fit their workload into five days a week and it spills over into weekends," she said.

Ms Dorrian said criticism from the Employment Relations Authority had not dented teachers' commitment to this week's strike.

"Teachers are absolutely furious that workload issues are being ignored," she said.

This week's industrial action began with a one-day strike in the Auckland area on Monday and would continue on Tuesday with a one-day strike in the remainder of the North Island except Wellington.

Among those preparing to strike tomorrow was the head of the Waikato Principals Association, Hamish Fenemor from Cambridge East School.

He said local local teachers and principals were disappointed by the ministry's latest offer and the Employment Relations Authority's comments, but they were not deterred.

"If anything it's hardened the resolve of the teachers and the principals," he said.

"It's not so much around the percentage of pay increase, it's how do we address these other issues where teachers are burnt out and just working these big hours that people aren't really seeing."

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