By: Simon Collins

Most schools will close tomorrow after hopes for last-minute talks to avert the teachers’ mega-strike collapsed.

The Ministry of Education has posted a list of 1229 schools that will be closed tomorrow – 51 per cent of the 2409 state and integrated schools with union members.

Many more schools are also expected to close but have not notified the ministry, as they are not required to do so.

Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) president Jack Boyle said the Employment Relations Authority has still not provided a date for facilitated talks with the Ministry of Education, which was the last hope that the strike could be avoided.

“The rumour mill says the authority has begun the process of naming who the facilitator might be and looking at dates, but we haven’t got confirmation of that yet,” he said.

“There is not going to be a facilitation today to cut across tomorrow’s community engagement.”

A Ministry of Education spokeswoman confirmed that no talks would happen today.

The ministry also tried to get facilitated talks with the primary teachers’ union, the NZ Educational Institute (NZEI), but NZEI was unhappy with the last facilitated talks in November and has been in a legal process to resist being forced into talks with the authority again.

About 50,000 teachers in primary, intermediate, secondary and area schools are expected to strike tomorrow in schools with 773,746 students.

The ministry data shows that the proportions of schools that have notified officials that they will close range from 21 per cent in the Waikato up to 95 per cent in Hawke’s Bay/Tairāwhiti.

Auckland (37.5 per cent) and Wellington (29 per cent) are both below average.

But this appears to be simply because many schools have not notified the ministry that they will close. Auckland Primary Principals’ Association president Craig Holt, whose own Willow Park School will close although it is not on the ministry list, said a majority of schools would be closed.

“We are closing for instruction. We only have one teacher who is a non-union member, so we can’t sustain opening,” he said.

Auckland Secondary School Principals’ Association acting head Tom Webb said his school, Māngere College, would not run any classes but would provide supervision for any students who turned up.

However, Boyle said comments by Education Minister Chris Hipkins on TVNZ’s Q&A show last night offered a possible glimmer of hope that a settlement could be reached after the strike.

Hipkins again insisted that the Government could not afford more than the $1.2 billion which it has offered the teachers over four years to lift their pay by 3 per cent a year for three years and add an extra step at the top of the salary scales for both unions.

Pressed by interviewer Jack Tame, Hipkins qualified his position stating: “For salaries, there isn’t room to move.”

Boyle said that seemed to hint that the Government could pay more for non-salary-related union claims, particularly for more non-contact hours to relieve their workload.

“His language has changed just a little bit around that being the sum total of what is going to go into the back pocket, and then there could be other things,” Boyle said.

“He’s wriggled around additional money for things that are not about salary. That is more hopeful.

“We are trying to traverse those things like workload reduction, like better support for kaiako Māori [Māori teachers] and Pasifika teachers. Those things are in our claim. We want a solution and we want it as quickly as possible.”

Source: NZ Herald

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