By Zaryd Wilson
Nikki Kaye says committing to reducing teacher workload would go some way to resolving a pay dispute between teachers and the Government.
Primary school teachers across the country took strike action on Wednesday for the first time since the mid-1990s demanding better pay and conditions.
The Opposition education spokesperson and former minister in the portfolio was in Whanganui yesterday talking to students at Whanganui High School before meeting with some of the city’s principals.
Kaye said she supported teachers being paid more but would not commit to a figure instead saying pay rates had to be addressed alongside other issues such as working conditions.
“That is a conversation for the Government and we can’t insert ourselves in that without knowing the discussions that are happening around teacher ratios and special education.
“I think it would be wrong to go and name a figure without seeing the rest of the books as well.”
However, she had sympathy with teachers regarding workload which is why National had changed its policy to reduce class sizes, she said.
“We think it would help if [the Government] moved around the child teacher ratios.
“Again, we’re not inside these discussions but it certainly would help and we have a Minister very reluctant in the last couple of weeks… to commit.”
The NZEI union wants a 16 per cent pay rise over two years for teachers.
The Ministry of Education says non-pay-related claims would cost a further $291m a year on top of the extra $296m a year for salaries.
Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said the teachers’ asking point was just too high.
But Kaye said the Government had made spending choices, such as free tertiary education and a regional growth fund, which had limited its options.
“This isn’t the case that they don’t have any money. They have made a series of choices to spend it on other things.”
The free tertiary education bill of $2.8b over four years had sucked up a lot of budget.
“That was a big call by the Government,” Kaye said.
“I’ve been at the Cabinet table and the reality is Minister Hipkins got that chunk of cash so it’s then politically more difficult to go an argue for other areas of education funding.”
Kaye argued the current Government was in a better position that the previous National one which had the global financial crisis and Canterbury earthquakes to deal with.
“They’ve come in at a very different time period with billions of dollars more cash and we think for whatever reason they prioritised students and a whole lot of other things rather than teachers and that has to be acknowledged.
“Even if the general public don’t agree with exactly 16 per cent, they’re saying ‘Well, could you do more for the teachers? They’re saying yeah, I think you could.”
Kaye said the dispute needed to be resolved.
“The Minister has to do everything possible to try and resolve this before what is being talked about as a potential two-day strike.”