Coined as an ‘industrial action,’ the ‘Bring out the best’ campaign and a ‘mega strike,’ New Zealand saw the biggest teachers’ strike to date after about 50,000 primary, secondary and area school teachers across the country joined together for the first time and walked out yesterday, marching for the future of education in Aotearoa.
More than 770,000 students were affected as about 59 percent of state and integrated schools that have union members closed their doors for the day. The strike, which teachers said was their last resort, was decided upon after their two unions, New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) and Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA), rejected a series of pay offers from the Government.
The Ministry of Education’s latest offer, which was rejected, is a $698 million pay improvement package for primary teachers and principals and a $500 million package for secondary teachers; the offer involves pay raises of three percent a year for three years. Education minister Chris Hipkins has indicated that the offer, which would reportedly cost taxpayers $1.2 billion over four years, is Government’s ‘final’ proposal.
“While the government has offered us a pay increase, they have largely ignored our requests around work conditions and student support,” said Karina Sharpe, Wanaka Primary teacher and the school’s NZEI representative.
This strike is the third time NZ’s primary teachers and principals have closed their doors for a standoff with the Government since August 2018. It is the first time secondary teachers have staged a strike. The teachers unions have each rejected four pay offers to date from the Education Ministry.
At the heart of the matter is NZ’s commitment to attract good teachers to the profession and retain the ones who are already here. Teachers are pushing the Government for policy change around: (1) better pay, (2) class sizes, which have increased, (3) under-resourced staff, (4) a lack of support for students with special needs and learning difficulties and, the big one, (5) more classroom release time to relieve their ‘substantially increased’ workload.
PPTA released a statement detailing New Zealand’s shortage of secondary teachers. “New Zealand is faced with a critical shortage of secondary teachers. Fewer people are becoming secondary teachers, a 40 percent drop in trainees over eight years. Secondary teachers are aging, 21 percent are over 60. People are leaving the profession, 40 percent leave in the first five years. Pay has fallen compared to other jobs, our relativity to the median wage has slipped,” said a PPTA spokesperson.
The teachers unions are asking for the support of their communities to help convince government that their needs are a priority in order to reach a consensus.