Tomorrow, around half of Macleans’ teachers will officially undertake strike action as part of New Zealand’s first-ever teacher ‘megastrike’.
Almost 50,000 primary and secondary school teachers and principals from over 2000 schools are expected to take part, making it New Zealand’s largest teaching strike in history.
What’s happening with the strikes?
On Wednesday, teachers across the country will suspend all work — this includes teaching classes, marking, or any other school-related work. Most schools, including Macleans, will be closed, effectively shutting down the public school system.
The megastrike is organised by New Zealand’s two teachers’ unions — the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) and Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA). Made up of teaching professionals across the country, these organisations work to advance the collective rights and interests of teachers.
Members from the two unions voted to take joint industrial action early last week, following their rejection of the three pay rises of 3% each that the government offered primary and secondary school teachers.
If no agreement is reached, PPTA members have also given authority for a five-week rolling strike. These rolling strikes — where teachers from certain regions go on strike — this would take place between June 17-21, and would be followed by four weeks of “rostering home” where a different year level would be sent home for a day — excluding Year 13s.
NZEI, too, states primary schools could take indefinite strike action — where primary schools across New Zealand would close until an offer was agreed.
Why are the strikes happening?
“[Teachers] are not being listened to,” says the PPTA liaison officer at Macleans College.
“I don’t wanna say the phrase ‘teachers hate to strike’, but teachers hate to strike.”
”But we’re at the point where I’m looking at my profession, and my profession is beyond struggling. There are not enough teachers.
“[The government’s] known for years that we’re struggling, and it’s been ‘just wait until next time, just wait until next time’. We have hit the point where we can’t wait. If we wait until next time, there won’t be teachers.”
“As a teacher, you have to trust the union and you have to trust the government will listen to you. The government’s just not listening and respecting the profession.”
Reduced class sizes, extra classroom release time, as well as a major salary increase are some of the demands put forward by teachers unions. The strike takes place on the eve of the Government’s ‘Wellbeing Budget’ and aims to persuade ministers to increase spending on teachers’ pay and conditions.
When asked what she hopes to gain from this movement, she said: “Respect for my profession. […] It’s a four year degree. I have a masters. I spent five years at university in the US, I have a masters in teaching and learning.”
“Anyone else who spends four years at a university in New Zealand, [has a] very recognised profession [and is] compensated accordingly.”
Principal Steven Hargreaves said the school fully supports the action taken by teachers to strike.
“The PPTA are pushing for a substantial increase in pay – an absolutely crucial change if we are to address the teacher quality and supply crisis.” He continued.
“The school understands that industrial action by teachers is very disruptive for families and for the learning of students. Teachers are only taking this action out of desperation.”
“The school will support this action and hope for a speedy and successful resolution to this dispute.”
Another Macleans teacher who we interviewed, said she hoped for more realistic compensation.
“If the industry can’t realistically compensate teachers then the future is jeopardised”.
“Recognition and compensation for our working conditions – being a teacher is incredibly demanding – ask any teacher. The breadth and intensity of what is asked of a teacher is mind-blowing.”
“Children have a right to access truly excellent education – this means that schools have to be able to access quality teachers – and they have to be able to retain them. We need to ensure that the future for teachers is one that will allow the best teachers to teach to their best ability”
“I prize the way teachers work together so much – I’m proud of the education industry and want to play my role in the way this industry is shaped and perceived. It’s so crucial that all teachers have equal access and equal opportunities,”
New Zealand has been facing a major teacher shortage since 2013. Teachers unions say a major root of this teacher recruitment and retention crisis is the fact that teacher salaries stand far below any other skilled, degreed professions.
In his emailed statement, Principal Hargreaves continued by saying that “[the Ministry of Education’s] initiatives, such as recruiting overseas teachers, provision of study grants and allowances for beginning teachers in low decile schools are only band aids.”
“The number of teacher trainees has been falling for years. More worryingly, the quality of teacher graduates has also been falling. Top school leavers are not considering teaching as a profession and the comparatively small salary and slow progression through the pay scale are major factors in this decision.”
Currently, the Ministry of Education insists it will not increase the total value of the extra $1.2 billion it has offered over the next four years.
“The pay on offer will put the majority of New Zealand teachers, be they primary or secondary school teachers, into the top 20 percent of New Zealand income earners,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“These are really good offers, and the government will not be increasing the total amount in this pay round.”
He emphasised that “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.”
The Spinoff: Everything to Everyone – understanding the teacher crisis
Otago Daily Times: NZEI: ‘indefinite’ strike possible
Stuff: Education Minister Chris Hipkins tells teachers to expect ‘disappointment’
RNZ: Education ministry calls for facilitation: ‘there are ways … we can address workload’
Written by Amn Waqar and Ermina Tajik. Published on 27/05/2019. Header image courtesy Breanna Barraclough, Newshub.