28 May 2021

Teacher union in the dark over govt money for settling staff underpayments

8:25 am on 28 May 2021

The teacher union the Educational Institute is mystified that the government has set aside more than $270 million to settle Holidays Act underpayments to school staff.

New Zealand currency held fanned out in someones hand

Last week's government Budget seemed to indicate a breakthrough with an allocation of $278m for corrective payments to school staff (file image). Photo: 123rf.com

It says it has been working on the problem with the Ministry of Education (MOE) for years and it does not know how the government has reached that figure or if a settlement is near.

Holiday's Act underpayments have been the subject of negotiations between the MOE and teacher unions since the problem was identified back in 2016.

Last week's government Budget seemed to indicate a breakthrough with an allocation of $278m for corrective payments to school staff, most of it earmarked for the 2020-21 financial year.

But Educational Institute national secretary Paul Goulter said that was news to the union.

"We were surprised to see that figure pop out. We don't know what the calculus behind it is and what the other understandings are with it. So we sort of sit back and say 'where did that come from' and the ministry urgently needs to talk to us about it," Goulter said.

"There's never been any indication that we're anywhere near a figure even going on the table let alone a settlement."

It was very difficult to tell how much money would be needed and the liability covered more than 100,000 registered teachers and principals, plus thousands of school support staff as well, he said.

School staff holiday entitlements were complicated and he did not know if the government's new funding was a ballpark estimate or based on something more accurate.

MOE spokesperson Kim Shannon said the money in this year's Budget was in addition to $84m allocated in previous budgets, bringing the total set aside for remediation to $334 million.

It might not be enough, she said.

"Further funding may be required to achieve compliance.

"We expect remediation will begin in the second half of next year. We are continuing to work with education sector representatives and we'll be contacting affected current and former school employees when we have more details on the remediation."

Post Primary Teachers Association vice-president Chris Abercrombie said school staff had waited too long for resolution of the holiday payments.

"It is complex, but I do think it's taken too long," he said.

"It's good to see that the amounts that have been budgeted for are increasing, which definitely indicates they are probably ready to start making payments to people who deserve this entitlement."

Abercrombie expected the government would need even more than the $334 million the ministry said had been set aside for payments.

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