Two years to solve teacher shortage - Education Minister Chris Hipkins

Education Minister Chris Hipkins thinks he can solve the teaching crisis in two years.

Numbers are falling according to the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), as overworked and underpaid teachers quit and fewer people choose to go into the profession. There are hundreds of vacancies in schools across the country, and the cost of living in Auckland is forcing many to either move out of the city or change professions altogether.

Primary school teachers went on strike on Wednesday, demanding better pay and working conditions.

"I'd have preferred they hadn't gone on strike, but they did," Mr Hipkins told The AM Show on Wednesday. "I understand the reasons for that, I understand that it was very genuine on the part of the teachers."

Negotiations between the Ministry of Education and the NZEI, which represents primary school teachers, aren't progressing. The union threatened a two-day strike before Wednesday's industrial action was even over.

"I would definitely prefer there weren't any further strikes," said Mr Hipkins. "I was a bit disappointed they were taking about further strike action yesterday before anyone has sat around the bargaining table again following this strike.

"I'd certainly encourage all of the teachers to hear the message that we are listening, that we heard the message that they sent us yesterday, and we want to get back to bargaining with them."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: The AM Show

Primary school teachers are asking for not just a 16 percent pay boost, but more support staff so they can spend less time doing administration work and more time in front of students and renewed pay parity with their peers in secondary education.

The ministry has so far offered a 14.7 percent pay boost for beginning teachers, and Mr Hipkins says this year's Budget included the "biggest increase in special needs funding in over a decade".

Veteran teachers have only been offered a little over 2 percent.

"The offer that's on the table is more than double - more than double - what they were getting under the previous Government," said Mr Hipkins.

He said the perception experienced teachers' pay flattens off around $75,000 range is incorrect.

"Senior teachers are far more likely to be earning extra allowances on top of that - about 40 percent of the country's teachers earn over and above what the base salary scale is. Those beginning teachers of course don't get those extra allowances usually. That's why we've loaded up the offer at the beginning teacher end."

Asked how long Labour will need to fix the crisis, Mr Hipkins said it will happen "quickly - within a couple of years".

"We're absolutely committed to addressing [the teachers' concerns, but] all of those things come at a cost. We've got to get the balance right between salary increases and making sure we've got money left over to address the other issues that they're raising."