30 Nov 2019

Living wage on offer for teacher aides, school support staff - union

5:02 pm on 30 November 2019

About 30,000 school support staff have been offered a pay rise to bring all workers up to at least the living wage.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The offer has been made by the Ministry of Education in collective bargaining with the country's largest education union, NZEI, which is fighting for pay increases and pay equity with industries that aren't female dominated.

If union members vote to accept the deal all support teachers will be paid at least $21.15 an hour, and a $500,000-a-year professional development fund will be established.

Support staff who already earn above this rate have been offered a pay increase of 3 percent, and all staff will get another increase of 3 percent in 12 months' time.

The union says 90 percent of teacher aides are paid below the Living Wage, and many are currently paid the minimum wage of $17.70 an hour. The offer means those currently at minimum wage have an extra 19.5 percent to take home.

Auckland teacher aide Ally Kemplen, who is on the NZEI support staff negotiating team, said many support staff struggle to make ends meet.

"Support staff are absolutely vital to our schools. We work closest with children who have the most complex learning needs. But we've been undervalued for too long.

"This offer doesn't fix the broken system that means so many support staff have no job security and go without pay outside of the school term. [But] this ... is a significant first step toward acknowledging that and valuing support staff properly."

A pay equity settlement needs to be negotiated as quickly as possible and wage payments for support staff need to be centralised, she said.

Unlike teachers, who are paid directly by the ministry, schools currently pay support staff wages from their operating costs. Critics say this means schools are forced to make choices between support staff hours and costs like maintenance.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary of early learning Ellen MacGregor-Reid said the offer is for new money to the education budget.

"This is a significant offer, it covers over 30,000 support staff, kaiārahi, and therapists in our schools and kura. If it's accepted it will see over 17,000 people receive at least the 2019 living wage.

"We hope that it is accepted and recognised."

The professional development fund would allow support staff to develop their skills and career pathways, she said.

"Because they are paid by schools out of their operational funding it can be hard for schools at times to meet those costs, so the government has made additional funding available, both for this professional learning and development fund to be trialled, and also so the minimum wage set in 2019 can be the minimum which support staff are paid in our schools."

The union said the offer also includes cultural leave for support staff taking part in the national kapa haka competition Te Matatini, and a rise in car allowances.

If accepted, the increased wages will be effective from 29 November 2019, and paid out in March 2020. The professional development fund would be available from July next year. The offer is for a term of 26 months.

The NZEI said members will vote on whether to accept the agreement on Monday.

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