Teachers' industrial action could have big impact on schools - PPTA

By John Gerritsen for RNZ 

Members of the secondary school teachers' union are poised to take industrial action over their stalled pay talks from next week.

Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA president Melanie Webber said there was no progress in pay talks with the Ministry of Education last week and confirmed that unless there was improvement, union members would refuse to cover for absent colleagues when classes resumed between 30 January and 7 February.

"Effectively, this is simply a working-to-rule measure," she said.

"Currently, teachers have been keeping classes running because we can't find relievers because of the shortages, so teachers have been using their planning and marking time to fill in those gaps and they're no longer going to do that."

The action could have a significant impact on schools because the shortages were so great, she said.

"In some places, it will mean they don't have the teachers that allow them to take trips or that allow teachers to be able to go out for professional development. But it also will mean that if teachers are sick, we're unable to cover for them."

Webber said the ministry's offer of two pay rises providing an increase of $6000 over two years was not enough to keep up with inflation.

"The offer is a lump-sum offer so it means for our experienced teachers they're effectively seeing a significant pay cut in real terms," she said.

Webber said teachers did not want to disrupt schools but the ongoing under-funding and under-staffing of schools was also causing disruption that teachers were trying to cover.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Educational Institute president Mark Potter said its primary school teacher members would meet in February to consider an offer the ministry made in December last year.

He confirmed the offer included a $4000 pay rise backdated to 1 December, 2022 and a further $2000 or 3 percent (whichever was higher) from 1 December, 2023.

The offer also included lump sum payments of $750 in March and $500 in December, and more release time from classroom teaching.

Potter said it would be up to the union's members to decide if they would accept or reject the revised offer.

"From that point on, we'll decide whether or not any further action's required," he said.

"Our position is always that we're member-led but what we do know from the member meetings we had last year is there's a very strong feeling amongst members that they really want issues of pay addressed and something done about the resourcing needed to teach children properly."

The ministry said its was focused on reaching an agreement with the PPTA.

"We are currently engaged in discussions. We are unable to share any details of these discussions due to the nature of collective bargaining negotiations being confidential," it said.