New Zealand teachers and nurses to hold first mass strike in a generation

Thousands of nurses, primary school teachers and principals are calling on New Zealand’s public authorities to ensure decent pay for educators, as well as guaranteeing the future of quality public education, and are prepared to walk off the job.

Nurses are planning to strike for the first time in 30 years

After months of negotiations, the New Zealand government’s latest pay offer to nurses was rejected in June, and a nationwide, 24-hour strike is planned for 12 July. Nurses say they are overworked and underpaid, and hospitals are chronically understaffed. That explains why they are ready to go on strike, for the first time for 30 years.

Political exploitation

Minister for health David Clark highlighted that the nurses’ discontent had been brewing after nine years of neglect under the previous, National government: “Their frustration is understandable … I think everyone agrees nurses should be paid more than they are now, but it takes more than one pay round to address nine years of neglect. We have a fiscal limit, and we’ve put out there the best offer we could put out there.”

Other groups to strike since the Labour-led government took over in October 2017, the first Labour government in a decade, include cinema workers, fast-food workers, and bus drivers.

The opposition National party has criticized the government for failing to listen to nurses’ concerns, and say that they have a duty to meet the “hugely raised expectations” of workers under their government.

NZEI: First primary school teachers’ action in over 24 years

Primary school teachers are also ready to strike for half a day on 15 August, their first strike action in more than 24 years.

Primary school teachers and principals, members of NZEI Te Riu Roa (NZEI), overwhelmingly voted on 3 July in favour of a three-hour work stoppage on 15 August, and are now discussing whether to extend the strike to a full day. They expressed their anger at the inadequate pay offers of Ministry of Education.

They had asked for more time to teach and lead, more support for children with additional learning needs and a pay jolt to stem the teacher shortage. Instead, most teachers (about 86%) are being offered a pay rise ranging from about 2.2-2.6% a year for three years, and just 12 minutes extra a week of time to work individually with children or plan and assess learning. The offer was far from the 16% over two years that members had identified as being necessary to address recruitment and retention issues that had grown during the term of the previous National government. The request to fund a Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in every school to assist children with additional learning needs was also ignored.

The lead negotiator for teachers, Liam Rutherford, warned that the current crisis would become a disaster if the Government did not get serious about the issues facing the profession.

“At many of the meetings, members felt that a stoppage from 1.30-4.30pm did not send a strong enough message, and there were many calls for the strike to be for a full day.” In response, he explained, NZEI’s National Executive is now calling for member feedback on whether to extend the strike, which may result in an electronic ballot being held at the beginning of next term.

Support of school communities needed

The lead negotiator for principals, Louise Green, also stressed that teachers and principals were very conscious of the inconvenience for students and families, “but we’re taking action now to avert the very real threat of larger class sizes within just a few years.”

Green was adamant that the ongoing support of school communities was essential to the success of the 3 August action.

Future of quality public education at stake

“We want to be able to give every student a quality education that meets their needs, and our parent communities understand that,” Green insisted. “Primary teachers have not taken industrial action in New Zealand since 1994, and the fact that we are taking such a step shows the grave concerns we have for the future of quality public education. The Government needs to take some courageous decisions now for the sake of children and their learning.”

The education union will be meeting with the Ministry in further negotiations over the coming weeks to try and reach a settlement addressing the issues that principals and teachers have raised.

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