The week began with the NZEI Te Riu Roa Annual Conference in Rotorua from September 30 to October 3.
The conference covered a number of big issues, including pay equity for support staff and early childhood workers, the launch of an early childhood education strategy, and the union’s vision for quality public education into the future.
But the biggest issue of the week was undoubtedly the primary teachers and principals’ union’s announcement that members would kick off Term 4 with a vote on whether to hold a national week of one-day strike actions in November.
The proposed strike action would consist of rolling one-day strikes throughout the country, and NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart explained last week that the decision came after members were consulted both in schools and at the conference over a number of options for industrial action.
Speaking to EducationHQ after the event, Stuart said attendees had “a really good conversation” about the next steps in the primary teachers’ and principals’ collective agreement negotiations.
“There was a really clear indication that people were supportive of the direction that we’re taking,” she said.
There was a feeling of frustration in the room, she acknowledged, stemming from “the fact that we’re just not attracting people into the profession and we’re just not able to keep them in the profession, so really a clear signal to the Government to really listen to what we’re saying around a way forward.”
Despite the prospect of looming rolling strikes on the horizon, Stuart said parents supported the union’s steps to further its claims for a significant payrise, and more time to plan lessons and work with individual students.
“Our parents were extremely supportive with the previous one day strike and we’re hoping that they will support us as we send clear messages to the government.
“...many classes have had to be split or specialist teachers ... have to go in and take classes when a relieving teacher can’t be found, so that’s a real worry for parents.
“As far as the rolling strikes are concerned, what that means is a one day strike for each of the regions across the country, so the strike would take place over a week but it would be one day in each of the regions.”
It would seem that not all NZEI members are content with the union’s direction; a recent comment piece published on Newsroom’s website questioned whether NZEI was actually helping teachers.
Responding to the piece, Stuart told EducationHQ that NZEI has been taking steps to ensure it hears the views of its members.
“We absolutely want to settle with these collective agreements, that’s absolutely the aim of NZEI Te Riu Roa, and so we’re working really hard on that - but not everybody’s going to agree with everything and we accept that,” Stuart said.
She added that ‘work to rule’ had been floated as an alternative to other strike activity, but was seen as the least popular option by members.
“...the two most popular options were the two-day strike or the rolling strikes.
“Rolling strikes had a small margin over the two day strikes but when it was discussed within our conference ... the rolling strike was coming through really significantly.
“So the decision was made, and we move forward.”
The president declined to provide numbers of votes for each option, and said it was NZEI policy not to do so as “it’s just not helpful for anyone”.
National executive elections were also held during the conference, and Stuart said all of the current national executive that stood for positions were returned to their positions.
Stuart herself was also re-elected as president.
PPTA CONFERENCE ‘GOOD FUN’
Melanie Webber, vice-president of the Post Primary Teachers’ Association, said the organisation’s annual conference went well.
“It’s always nice to have teachers getting together and talking about education, it’s good fun,” she told EducationHQ in the aftermath.
There were plenty of issues on teachers’ minds during the conference, and Webber said a number of papers were passed and discussed.
“For me one of the best conversations we had was around a wellbeing paper, so looking at the importance of teachers taking care of their own and each other’s wellbeing,” Webber said.
But as ever, the conversation circled back to the teacher shortage.
“I worry when we talk about shortages so much and we talk about wellbeing that ... a lot of people do say ‘God, why would I do that?’
“But actually it’s the loveliest job on earth.
"Teaching is brilliant, but we’ve still got to have roofs over our heads!”
Like their primary counterparts, secondary teachers have commenced collective bargaining negotiations with the Ministry of Education and during their conference, rejected the Ministry’s offer.
The conference featured a presentation by Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association in the United States.
Lee was involved in strike action in West Virginia earlier in the year.
Asked if his presence at the conference was designed to send a message to the Government about what secondary teachers were prepared to do in collective bargaining negotiations, Webber said the PPTA would negotiate in good faith.
“Lee was really inspiring, talking about the teachers standing up for their students and what they needed to do to get teachers into the classrooms.
“...we negotiate in good faith, and ... in terms of any action, that’s not planned at the moment.”
Other speakers included Education Minister Chris Hipkins, whom Webber described as “a great friend” of the PPTA.
“He’s undertaking some really courageous conversations about what’s going on in education, but they are stuck in a place where we’ve got a good nine years of underfunding which is coming to a crunch point,” Webber explained.
“If we don’t solve these issues now we are going to have this continual tale going on so while they say ‘you’re going to have to be patient and wait’, we don’t feel we can, because we’re seeing these impacts in our classroom.”