Could early childhood teachers be the next to go on strike?

With the primary and secondary strikes looking like they might have won concessions from the Government, another group of teachers are starting to make noise.

The Early Childhood Council says the Government underspent in childcare by $75 million last year, forcing some centres to close thier doors. But the Government says there was no underspend - not as many kids enrolled in early childhood education as was forecast.

Chief executive Peter Reynolds says the lack of funding is alarming.

"That is either really bad planning on behalf of the Ministry of Education, or it's a deliberate effort to cut back further funding from childcare in New Zealand. This comes at a time when childcare centres are screaming for funding."

Reynolds believes the Government has been too focused on the primary and secondary teachers' strikes to notice what's going on in early childcare.

"I think the squeaky wheel is getting the attention. We don't begrudge primary or secondary school teachers - but similarly, early childhood education teachers do a sterling job, and they may have an argument with regard to their pay rate as well."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins addressed the supposed missing $75 million during a select committee hearing earlier this week.

"That $75 million is not an underspend - it's a forecast change," he said under questioning from National MP Nicola Willis. "Forecasts change all of the time. It doesn't mean we get to keep that money."

He said previous Budgets would show a similar adjustment "as you start dealing with more real numbers, rather than just a rough projection".

Early childhood teachers might want to move quickly if they want more funding. The union that represents primary school teachers says their better pay offer has been a long time coming.

"The reason we are in this position is we have had 10 years of underfunding, and the previous Government is at the centre of this underfunding," said NZEI lead negotiator Liam Rutherford. "I guess what we have in this offer is the start of a process."

The present Government also previously ruled out any more money being available.

The offers:

  • for primary school teachers, the median pay increase would be $14,500.
  • Secondary teachers will receive annual pay increases of 3 percent, as well as increases to the number of management units and middle and senior management allowances.
  • Members of both unions will also get a lump sum payment of $1500.

The secondary teachers' union is calling on members to think carefully about the latest offer, which is $270 million higher than what was offered before last month's mega-strike.

Teachers and supporters protested in Auckland last month.
Teachers and supporters protested in Auckland last month. Photo credit: Newshub.

PPTA president Jack Boyle says it's important that teachers feel they have been given the amount of support they need.

Reynolds said it's a tough time for all levels of the education sector.

"We're seeing childcare centres already closing their doors because it's just getting too tough. We're seeing some centres having to pay huge increases in the cost of seeking reliever teachers."

Last year, a survey by his organisation found it was taking almost 100 days to fill each vacancy that arose, there's such a shortage of qualified teachers.

The number of people enrolling in teacher training dropped by nearly half between 2010 and 2016, according to the Ministry of Education, while National led the Government. It's since recovered slightly, but nowhere near enough to plug the gaps.