A Wellington Early Childhood Education Centre. Photo by Mark Coote.

Why ECE teachers will be wearing black tomorrow

Tomorrow, early childhood educators and support staff around New Zealand will be wearing black and white. Teacher Mel Burgess explains why.

There are plenty of ways to mark International Women’s Day on Friday 8 March. You can take some time out to honour women who have blazed trails in the past or look to those forging their own today. You can surround yourself with women who inspire you or you can rally and fight for your rights.

This International Women’s Day, educators and support staff will be doing the latter. We’re wearing black and white and we’re hoping you’ll ask us why.

Our aim is to raise awareness about the fight for pay equity in education. We’re hoping by wearing black and white we can start conversations about why fairer pay for ECE teachers, support staff, and teacher aides is vital to ensuring our tamariki get the education they need and deserve.

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women but it’s also a day to insist on fair and equal treatment. This is the basis of the pay equity campaign that educators around the country have been pushing for.

We named our campaign Mana Taurite – equal status or equity in te reo Māori –  in May 2018, but New Zealanders have been demanding equity for far longer than that.

The fight for pay equity in education alone has been fought for 12 years already.

To understand our future, we must understand our past. The terms of settlement for Ministry of Education support workers represented an historic and life-changing moment in our fight.

Those 329 support workers were the first education sector group to achieve a pay equity settlement. We want to make sure they’re not the last. As well as pay increases of up to 40%, and some guaranteed minimum hours, their pay equity settlement went beyond the weekly pay packet. It also includes ongoing work on career pathways and qualifications – both ways to build a valued workforce.

But it’s a hard fight. Before even getting to the negotiating table, the pay equity team spent several years in pay equity processes under the previous Labour government. Then the National government scrapped the pay equity unit in 2008 and refused to consider pay equity claims in collective agreement negotiations.

It wasn’t until 2015, following the successful Terranova proceedings taken by New Zealander of the Year Kristine Bartlett and the then Service and Food Workers’ Union, that NZEI filed a pay equity case in the Employment Relations Authority on behalf of ministry-employed support workers.

For two years negotiations were held. Finally a settlement was reached that signified that the government truly valued education support workers. The settlement showed a commitment to addressing pay equity claims and we’re hopeful as we continue this work on behalf of all education workers who are doing so-called “women’s work” and being paid less for it.

Addressing the historical undervaluing of the work of some professions is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. This undervaluation has occurred because the work has been traditionally done by women, but it impacts us all. The skills, effort and responsibility in roles that society has perceived to be ‘women’s work’ have been undervalued in both status and pay.

We have three different groups in the education system who are currently fighting for pay equity:

Early childhood educators are joining forces from all over the country, in private and community-run centres, in an unprecedented show of strength and unity. Support staff in kindergartens are about to start their pay equity process, with multiple employers agreeing to join together to undertake the work.

Teacher aides are standing up for their rights too. The Ministry of Education is working with us and the NZ School Trustees Association on a process that is currently interviewing workers in male-dominated jobs, in readiness for comparing with the work of teacher aides.

Mel teaching at her early childhood education centre. Photo by Mark Coote.

Finally, the Ministry of Education has been notified that support staff in schools working in administration, library, and specialist technical roles have a pay equity claim to be addressed.

When we win pay equity, it will benefit women of course but it will also benefit the small number of men employed in these jobs or industries. It will also break down stereotypes around these roles which will provide our young people with more options to pursue their passion for teaching and supporting learning.

The message we’re giving to young people when we stand in support of pay equity is that all genders are equal. We’re teaching them that no matter who you are or what kind of work you do, you deserve to be paid fairly for your work.

Their hopes for the future need to be the basis for what we fight for as well as righting these historic wrongs.

We still have far to go. Despite the passing of the Equal Pay Act 40 years ago, women are still paid $4 an hour less, on average, than men. In many cases that’s because work that’s traditionally done by women such as caring and working with young children has been historically undervalued. Entire sectors of the workforce have been underpaid as a result. Something has to be done and we can’t wait any more.

An apple might be the symbolic gift for a teacher, but to be honest – we would just love to see others join our movement for fair pay. Thousands of other New Zealanders have so far been working hard to make pay equity a reality and they need your help.

While black is the colour of mourning, I’m not grieving, I’m hopeful.

I’m hopeful that next year on International Women’s Day we will have won the fight for some of the claims we are in the midst of now, and be negotiating the settlements for others.

Find out more about the pay equity fight at fairsfair.org.nz


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