By: Simon Collins
A school principal has made a heartfelt plea to Education Minister Chris Hipkins to intervene to stop the next round of teachers’ strikes.
Fa’atili Iosua Esera, who leads decile-1 Sutton Park School in Māngere East, told Hipkins at an Auckland principals’ breakfast today that his parents could not afford to take another day off work if teachers go ahead with planned rolling strikes from November 12.
Hipkins offered hope for mediation next week, but also warned that he only had a limited pot of money and said a big pay rise for teachers could scuttle a promise to pay $150 for every student to schools that stopped asking parents for “donations”.
He said the $70 million a year required for Labour’s $150 pre-election manifesto promise“comes from the same pot of money as the bargaining contingency comes from”.
I can’t make a decision on that until I know how much the teacher settlement is going to cost,” he said.
Esera said Sutton Park parents were “very supportive” of the teachers’ first strike on August 15 – “but losing a day’s pay for a lot of our families they just can’t afford it”.
“I know a lot of my staff support the second strike, but it’s coming to the time of year when losing pay, for a lot of my families, is not okay,” he told Hipkins.
“So what ministerial intervention can you take to avoid the strike and to allow schools to remain open?
“I only need eight other teachers so that I can safely say to my families that Sutton Park School will remain open.”
Hipkins replied that he would not intervene to keep schools open, but hoped that mediation by the Employment Relations Authority, which is due to start on Monday, would lead to a settlement.
He said again that he was disappointed that teachers went on strike after only an initial offer from the Government.
“I always defend the right of a union to take strike action, but I have found the speed with which industrial action commenced in terms of the negotiations was disappointing,” he said.
He said the Government’s initial offer in June would have given a much bigger pay rise over three years to beginner teachers (14.2 per cent) than to experienced teachers (6.1 per cent) as a deliberate bid to help recruit more teacher trainees.
“The feedback from the union was that we had gone too far with that,” he said.
So the Government’s second offer in September was a flat 3 per cent a year, or 9.3 per cent over three years, for all teachers.
The Ministry of Education says the latest offer would cost $569 million over four years.
Nurses accepted a similar $520m, 9.3 per cent pay rise in August, but with two extra steps on top of their existing pay scale which will give experienced nurses 15.9 per cent more by 2020.
Police officers are voting on a similar 9.3 per cent three-year deal costing $358m.
Secondary teachers have also been offered 9.3 per cent over three years, but are seeking an immediate 15 per cent plus a housing allowance in Auckland, Tauranga and Queenstown of up to $100 a week.
Hipkins was cool on a housing allowance because he said it would just push up rents.
“We have increased student allowances by $50 a week to make up for the fact that rents have gone up, and most landlords increased their rents by $50 a week from the moment the $50 a week came in, and those students didn’t do any better as a result,” he said.
“What we have is a housing shortage causing increased rents. The best thing we can do to address the issue is to increase the supply of houses, so that’s what we are doing.”
Esera said afterwards that a group providing before- and after-school care at Sutton Park School would stay open through the day if the strikes go ahead on November 12, but it would not be able to take the school’s full roll of 563.
He said some teachers might be willing to work but they could not be paid because of a ministry ruling in August that “union members who do not strike will be deemed to have taken strike action and not be paid unless boards confirm that they are absent for reasons such as sickness or bereavement leave”.
Asked whether the school could stay open if the strike goes ahead, he said: “At this stage we will have to close.”
Source: NZ Herald