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Striking primary teachers,in Wellington, November last year. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)
Striking primary teachers,in Wellington, November last year. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

PoliticsMay 12, 2019

Primary and secondary teachers vote for ‘mega strike’: all you need to know

Striking primary teachers,in Wellington, November last year. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)
Striking primary teachers,in Wellington, November last year. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

Votes taken across the two big teachers’ unions, which represent almost 50,000 members, will bring a mass classroom closure across the country on May 29.

When is the teachers’ strike and who is affected?

Pretty much every school in the state sector will be closed on Wednesday May 29, after primary and secondary school teachers voted again to reject the government’s latest offer, it was announced this afternoon. May 29 is the day before the Budget – deeply uncomfortable timing for a government that had been planning to trumpet its own wellbeing agenda.

Does the ‘mega strike’ have anything to do with enormous hardware stores?

No, but it is very big. Reportedly the largest scale industrial action ever seen in New Zealand.

Why are they striking?

Teachers’ unions say that the government is insufficiently prioritising the “education crisis”, and that the votes in favour of a strike, conducted in secret ballots across the unions, was “overwhelming” in its rejection of the Ministry of Education offer, which boils down to three pay rises of 3% each; the ministry says about 24,000 teachers would see a pay boost of $10,000 within two years.

In a statement, NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart said: “The offers we have received from the government have not addressed the issues our profession is facing. They will not turn around the crisis in education that is looming.”

Jack Boyle of the PPTA said: “A well resourced, equitable education system is essential for a healthy society. We hope the government acts on its principles and makes that happen.”

Do you have an accessible, visual account of this teachers’ crisis?

As it happens, yes, right here.

What is the offer they’re rejecting worth?

The offers on the table amount to almost $1.2 billion extra spending in pay rises and improvements to terms and conditions, according to ministry figures. That’s $698 million for primary school teachers and principals and $496 million for secondary teachers.

How has the Ministry of Education responded to the ballots?

They’ve said they’ll be seeking a return to facilitated bargaining – in which the Employment Relations Authority attempts to lead deadlocked parties out of their impasse. The decision to strike “does not offer a solution”, said Iona Holsted, the secretary for education, in a statement.

She took issue with suggestions there is a crisis in teacher numbers: “The latest data shows that more people are training to be teachers, more teachers are entering the workforce and more teachers are staying in the profession. The teaching workforce is stable and growing, with over 1,000 more joining our current 70,000 primary and secondary teachers in 2018.”

And the government?

There has been no official statement yet, but in the leadup to the vote on a strike last week, education minister Chris Hipkins issued a plea under the header, “Teacher pay – best offer in a decade”. He said: “These are really good offers, and the government will not be increasing the total amount in this pay round.”

He said: “The coalition government has also worked hard to rebuild the lost trust between the government and the teaching profession. We want to build an enduring partnership with the sector, and we’re listening very carefully to teachers and principals … We are committed to working through all the issues the teachers are raising but we can’t do it all at once.”

How will this all play on the eve of the ‘Wellbeing Budget’?

The teachers’ unions says that polling reveals strong public support for their cause. The sight of teachers and parents protesting against supposed government parsimony for education makes for an awkward contrast with pledges on a fresh focus on wellbeing.

For its part, the government points to the pressure on other areas. “The government is balancing a range of demands including mental health, poverty alleviation and chronic under funding in health which have built up over nine years under National,” said Hipkins. “We are also rebuilding education after a decade of underfunding … I know that pay is an important factor in teachers feeling valued and fulfilled in their roles [but] the current teachers’ claims would cost the government $3.9 billion – which on a like for like basis is a third of total new government spending in the last Budget. This is money that’s gone to health, police, and children living in poverty.”

What’s the opposition line?

National – who traditionally have a substantially testier relationship with teachers’ unions than Labour-led governments – are questioning both ministerial competency and the reality of the claim there’s no more cash to splash.

“I have said before it is crucial the Government provide a circuit breaker to resolve this,” said education spokesperson Nikki Kaye. “Labour created huge expectations with the sector by over promising … Teachers are telling me they don’t believe Chris Hipkins and the prime minister when they say ‘there is no more money’ given the spending announcements that have been made over the past 12 months.

“National left Labour growing surpluses. Budget 2019 will involve a massive education spend. However if we can’t get teachers in classrooms people will question Labour’s priorities.”

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