16 Apr 2024

Ministry of Education job cuts may affect school lunch programme

2:45 pm on 16 April 2024
Lunches provided at Jean Batten Primary School.

The free school lunch programme was introduced in 2019 by the previous Labour government, and currently offers meals to 230,000 students in about 1000 disadvantaged schools. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Job cut proposals at the Ministry of Education are affecting those who work in the school lunch programme, RNZ understands.

It is not yet clear how many roles this could include in the Ka Ora Ka Ako programme, but it could involve close to half of the positions in a team which works on the lunch programme and also in the period products programme in schools.

It is understood this team is made up of contractors and some staff roles.

The free school lunch programme was introduced in 2019 by the previous Labour government, and currently offers meals to 230,000 students in about 1000 disadvantaged schools.

Associate Education Minister David Seymour has previously confirmed the programme itself is under review and is likely to be cut in the Budget.

Jobs being disestablished are understood to include nutritionists, those who monitor and evaluate the programme, sustainability and waste, and people who work in regional branches of the team.

One person, who RNZ has agreed not to name, works on the school lunch programme at the ministry and was told their role was being considered for redundancy.

They said they had concerns about whether the programme could continue to be effective with the number of jobs being cut.

Another person close to the matter said the team was set to be "decimated".

Health Aotearoa Coalition co-chairperson Boyd Swinburn said he had also been contacted by someone working on the programme saying their job was expected to be cut.

Swinburn said ministry staff who oversaw the programme were vital to help delivering it, and he did not classify them as "back office roles".

"These people are often characterised as back office in a very derogatory way as if the jobs they do have no value.

"But of course they are incredibly important to the whole programme. I mean they do all of the contracting with the suppliers, they do all the monitoring, all the reporting, they support the schools, they support the suppliers.

"So these are actually really important jobs and I think the whole programme would struggle if there are big cuts with these support people."

Seymour said he was not involved in the detail of the ministry's restructuring process, but he was confident the programme could deliver the same quality with fewer people.

"We are delivering right across government with less cost and often fewer people working on it than had been required under the previous government. So I believe it will have no effect on the quality of what we deliver."

When pressed how the cuts would affect the programme, Seymour said: "It is possible to get more for the people who are paying the bill, the taxpayers of New Zealand - the people receiving the services - with fewer people in the Ministry of Education."

Associate Education Minister David Seymour speaks to media about cutting regulations in the sector.

David Seymour speaking to media, during a visit to an early childhood centre in Wellington today. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Ministry of Education has declined to provide details of these proposed cuts, and said some staff will be provided with more job cut proposals tomorrow.

There will be a staff-wide progress update on the status of the job cuts, which will be posted to the Ministry of Education's website.

The ministry's leader of corporate, Zoe Griffiths, said it was premature to speculate on the number of positions, what those positions were, and the number of staff affected.

"We are working with the government on delivering priorities. This includes a commitment to retaining food in schools and the period product programme."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs