Paid union meetings were held by NZEI support staff members today over issues of pay and proper recognition.
NZEI support staff representative Barbara Turley says 68 members turned up to this morning's meeting at Otumoetai College.
“The main focus for us is a two percent pay rise. Many teacher aides are paid the bare minimum, and we only get paid 40 weeks of the year, not 52 – when school isn't operating, we don't get paid,” says Barbara.
“It's also about recognising us as professionals, and that our jobs in schools are important.”
She says because the ministry have frozen the schools operation grant, which pays support staff (including teacher aides, office staff, and school librarians), effectively their incomes are frozen too.
“Schools are already cutting support staff hours and jobs and this is hurting children's learning, especially those who need extra assistance. NZEI is calling on the government to end the operations grant funding freeze and inject a funding jolt, because not only are schools being underfunded, support staff are not being recognised and paid appropriately.”
She supports Labour's proposed budget, which would include support staff in bulk funding, as teachers are, rather than with other costs associated with running schools such as power and textbooks.
NZEI members plan on standing outside the offices of local MPs with placards to promote awareness of their grievances, and a national petition is circulating about the issue.
Minister of Education Hekia Parata ‘utterly refutes' the claim of a freeze, however, saying an extra $12.3 million has been provided to schools on top of the $1.35 billion being distributed to schools in operational grants in 2017.
This represents a one per cent increase in funding.
“The government's role is to fund state and state-integrated schools to provide good public education. Children are at the heart of our education system, and we absolutely value all of our education sector employees. This is evidenced by our highest ever investment in public education, which amounts to over $11 billion this financial year,” says Hekia.
“Funding for education has gone up by 35 per cent since 2008/09, and operational grant funding (direct to school funding) has gone up 37.6 per cent, while student numbers have increased by only 3.6 per cent. In fact, no other OECD country spends a higher percentage of its public funding on education as New Zealand.”
She says last year's budget included $15.3 million for in-class teacher aide hours, taking the total number of students supported by teacher aides to 2750 over the next two years.
This will see the Government funding an extra 550,000 hours of classroom support for students with ongoing learning needs.
“On the question of pay: collective bargaining is a matter for the Ministry of Education. However, the Ministry is ready and willing to continue to engage in positive and constructive negotiations with the union representatives. The unions have the right to hold paid union meetings, and they have made the choice to discontinue bargaining while these paid union meetings occur.
“This effectively postpones any meaningful progress for these support staff, when the unions are fully aware there is no back-dating.”