Kaiārahi i te reo play a vital role in supporting te reo Māori and tikanga in the education system. Last year, an investigation found the workforce has been largely undervalued – and a proposed pay equity settlement aims to rectify that.
When Lenora Roberts (Te Aitanga-ā-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou) began working as a kaiārahi i te reo in a Wellington school in the early 2000s, she recalls Māori students nervous to greet people in te reo and unsure of their whakapapa.
Fast forward 14 years and “students are screaming mōrena” and “know their true home is where their tūpuna are from”, she says. Most importantly, “They’re proud that they’re Māori.”
Kaiārahi i te reo play a vital role in the education workforce: working alongside teachers to support te reo Māori and advise on tikanga. It’s a role Roberts took out of love for her community rather than the pay, but the current cost of living has made life especially difficult. The low wages meant money was a challenge “more often than not”.
In the 1980s, the number of kōhanga reo graduates starting primary school continued to expand and the “Taha Māori” or Māori dimension school curriculum requirements were introduced. This growth of te ao Māori in schools coupled with a lack of trained teachers fluent in te reo Māori led to the establishment of the kaiārahi i te reo role in 1985 to fill the gap.
That role has remained unchanged since and there are now around 70 kaiārahi working in primary, intermediate, high schools and kura kaupapa across Aotearoa.
Yesterday morning it was announced that the predominantly wāhine Māori kaiārahi i te reo workforce has been offered a pay equity settlement that includes a 79% average pay increase.
Significantly, this is the first proposed pay equity settlement for a Māori workforce in New Zealand history.
According to NZEI TE Riu Roa, the union that initiated the pay equity process in 2018 with the Ministry of Education, if the offer is endorsed by those covered in the claim, a kaiārahi i te reo currently earning $23.03 an hour would soon be paid $41.30 per hour. This includes backdated pay from August 20, 2021 – the date the union and the Ministry of Education established evidence of historical gender-based undervaluation of the role.
The pay equity claim raised with the secretary for education by NZEI TE Riu Roa on behalf of kaiārahi i te reo stated that “the work of kaiārahi i te reo is undervalued because they are currently and historically mostly women. It was therefore possible that some aspects of the skills, knowledge and interests required to carry out the work were less visible, and so not always recognised and equitably remunerated.”
An 18-month investigation conducted by both NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Ministry of Education established that the value of kaiārahi i te reo skills, responsibilities and experience had been significantly undervalued because they are a predominantly wāhine Māori workforce.
Today’s settlement follows other ongoing pay equity claims in the education sector. Last month a proposed settlement was reached for school administrators. Education support workers and teacher aide pay equity claims were settled in 2020.
The current settlement offer also includes “a commitment to improving professional learning and development, a new parental allowance, an overtime allowance, better rules for progression and an updated work matrix to determine grading”, NZEI said in a statement.
Rotorua kaiarahi i te reo Āwhina Kihi (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Naho) has been working in the position for nine years. She always knew she wanted to be a teacher and originally took up the role because it combined her love for children and knowledge of te ao Māori.
She says until 2018, kaiārahi i te reo were mostly paid below living wage. The support of her husband and whānau meant she had relative financial stability but she knows that isn’t the case for all of her colleagues. “I count myself as one of the lucky ones,” Kihi says.
Even so, the higher pay will mean Kihi’s dream to build a papakāinga for her whānau and future generations can become a reality. “This is going to be life-changing for myself and whānau,” she says.
Most importantly, this proposed settlement is “recognition and acknowledgement for what kairārahi bring to the role”, as well as for “those who got us where we are, the people who fought for our language and culture”, Kihi says.
Roberts, who is originally from the East Coast, moved to Wellington to find better jobs when she was younger. She’s hopeful that better wages will ensure kaiārahi i te reo are able to stay in rural communities with their iwi, hapū and whānau, so “the matauranga they have can remain in communities to feed knowledge to future generations”.
“There’s nothing more powerful than our children being able to stay with their community so that knowledge isn’t lost,” she says.
And as efforts to revitalise and strengthen te reo Māori, tikanga and mātauranga continue across Aotearoa, Roberts believes better conditions for those doing this important work in education will help future-proof the gains made so far. The settlement will help to “maintain the integrity of kaiārahi so they can continue to deliver everything about te ao Māori necessary to their kura”, she says.
NZEI will be discussing the proposed settlement with kaiārahi i te reo in the coming weeks and members will vote on whether to endorse or decline the offer.