Fact-checking the teachers' pay deal: Is it as good as the Government says?

This article has been updated. 

Teachers are striking across New Zealand demanding better pay and resources, which raises the question: is it justified?

Teachers have asked for a 16 percent pay increase over two years, but the offer from the Government is a 3 percent increase, each year, for three years.

That adds up to about a 9.3 percent increase over three years for primary teachers, while some teachers would get 12 percent over three years because of an extra top grade offer. 

Secondary teachers with a teaching qualification and subject degree and who have trained to be a teacher start on $51,200 (G3+E), the expired collective agreement teachers had with the Government says, while those at the top of the pay scale earn $78,000. 

If the Government's offer were accepted, in three years' time a secondary teacher (depending on their qualification) starting their career would then be earning around $55,800, an increase of around $4600 overall. 

And a primary teacher who has reached the top of the scale would then be earning around just over $85,000, an increase of just over $9500 overall.

The Government's $1.2 billion offer over four years for primary teachers and principals and secondary teachers - which was rejected by teachers in April - would lift pay and improve working conditions. But the industry is saying it's not enough. 

Teachers striking in Wellington.
Teachers striking in Wellington. Photo credit: Getty

It sounds like a substantial amount, compared to the $520 million offer accepted by nurses in August last year.

But the nurses offer included pay rises of between 12.5 and 16 percent (including pay rises associated with the additional top pay step) - similar to what teachers want (which under the current offer would be 15.4 percent for some teachers when taking into account the additional top pay step). 

Liam Rutherford, lead negotiator for teachers at the New Zealand Education Institute (the teachers' union), said the last three offers from the Government have been the same amount of money, just with "slight tweaks". 

"Teachers compared the offer with what's needed to ensure quality education and make teaching a sustainable career choice. Our votes made it clear - the offer doesn't address the issues we face.

"If you suggested a young person consider a three or four-year degree that will see them earning a maximum of just under $76,000 after many years' experience, and they have to work about 60 hours a week, you'd be laughed at. 

"The Government is offering a top rate of $85,471 in two years' time, with no improvement to workload."

In addition to the salary increases offered in November 2018, primary teachers have an option to receive an additional 10 hours of classroom release time each year for three years.

This would mean that the majority of teachers will benefit from an additional 30 hours of classroom release time for three years, and for those working part time it would be pro-rated.

And that's not to mention the 460 primary school teachers who, according to the Ministry of Education, were employed by schools full time as of April this year and were earning less than the minimum wage.  

But Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the current offers of $698 million for primary school teachers and principals and $496 million for secondary teachers are "really good offers". 

He said the Government "will not be increasing the total amount in this pay round".

Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Hipkins also pointed to an extra $500 million to support children with additional learning needs, reducing teacher workload by abolishing national standards, and spending $135 million to address teacher shortages.

He said the current teachers' claims would cost the Government $3.9 billion - "which on a like for like basis is a third of total new Government spending in the last Budget". 

"We know we have a lot of catching up to do in education, but some of the issues will take time to work through."

Across the country, close to 50,000 primary, intermediate and secondary school teachers have now walked off the job for a one-day "mega-strike" to send a message to the Government. 

Where did it all begin?

The reason teachers are striking goes back to 2017, according to Rutherford, when the union that represents them decided to demand something different from the Government. 

Rutherford said serious issues within the teaching industry have been boiling up over the last few years and the union began to take notice of what was making teaching seem like an unattractive profession.  

Studies have shown that teaching has been dropping in terms of its attractiveness as a career path, he said. For example, a 2013 report by the New Zealand Initiative said the "status of the profession is low" in New Zealand and Australia. 

Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) president Jack Boyle has also raised concerns around secondary schools "facing an unprecedented shortage of the trained, expert quality teachers that our young people need". 

In the union's latest rounds of negotiations, Rutherford said they decided to forget about smaller issues of travel claims and camp allowances and to go after bigger issues such as pay, the teacher shortage, and not enough time to teach.  

"For teachers, the outstanding issues are very much around their overwhelming workload and lack of support for children with additional learning needs, and the offers have not addressed this," he told Newshub. 

National education spokesperson Nikki Kaye.
National education spokesperson Nikki Kaye. Photo credit: Newshub

"We are exhausted and burning out - our profession is at a crossroads and we need the Government to act now."

He said signs that teaching was slipping as a profession included qualified teachers having to continue flatting instead of being able to shift into a house with their partner or go out on their own, because of the low pay. 

"Our pay has also fallen behind - chronic underfunding in education has meant teachers' pay today is well behind where it should be," Rutherford said. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has justified the Government's position, saying thousands more teachers are being trained for schools, "because we know we need to up the supply of teachers".

"We're training and supporting 3280 more [teachers]. We're saving 145,000 families the $76.70 in NCEA fee they pay for their kids' secondary school."

National's education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said in Parliament on Wednesday: "National supports shifting the bargaining parameters around teachers' pay and workload."


Corrections have been made to this article since it was published.