Pay packet parley

March 2011

 

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DAVID CRAIG uses a question and answer format to review secondary school teachers’ industrial action.

Secondary school teachers are seeking a four per cent wage increase. At time of press, the government has offered 1.5 per cent plus one per cent after 12 months.

Against a backdrop of heavy government borrowing to maintain normal public services and a government directive that all departments do more with less money, secondary school teachers seem determined to continue their industrial action of 2010 into 2011.

Q Are the secondary school teachers only after more money?

A No. Their initial claim lodged early last year contained a total of 10 major issues, ranging from reducing class sizes to teachers receiving mentoring to help with their professional development as well as the wage claim. After eight months of bargaining these claims have been narrowed down to a wage increase and the class size issue. None of the other claims have been agreed to but rather have been dropped by the PPTA in the face of flat refusals by the Ministry of Education negotiating team.

<<<Q What are the details of the teachers’

pay claim?>>>

A The teachers are seeking a four per cent increase and the Ministry of Education is offering a 1.5 per cent increase with a further one per cent in 12 months. The Minister of Education has claimed that the average wage for secondary teachers is about $71,000 and the ministry has advised that this figure was arrived at by dividing the total secondary teacher pay by the number of teachers. The PPTA points out that the ministry’s figures include additional payments for certain hard-to-staff schools and the salaries of principals who can earn $150,000-plus. Teachers with four years training start on $45,000 and can progress over a period of years to $68,000, so for the ordinary secondary teacher an ‘average’ of $71,000 is not achievable. The minister indicated in September 2010 that police and nurses had recently settled for about a one per cent increase and in the light of present economic conditions secondary teachers should do the same.

Q How does the PPTA justify a wage increase of four per cent?

A According to the president of the PPTA, Kate Gainsford, recruitment and retention, credit being given for high levels of professionalism, and acknowledgement of the value of goodwill contributions by teachers in facilitating pupils’ sporting and cultural activities are the main issues.

Gainsford on recruitment and retention: “In Taranaki recently we had a pool of very experienced senior teachers - leadership educationalists if you like - leave for overseas postings. Of course this affects the quality of the education we can provide. It’s not just the experienced teachers we lose. We have a problem with young teachers quitting after just a few years, citing workload as the main reason. They feel unappreciated.”

Gainsford on professionalism: “According to OECD league tables, New Zealand’s secondary school system is up there with the world’s best such as Canada and Finland. We are ahead of the US, the UK and, yes, we are ahead of Australia.”

Gainsford is especially passionate about the goodwill contribution of teachers: “In the UK during one industrial dispute teachers withdrew their goodwill in relation to supervising and running sports and recreational activities in their own time. This had a huge negative effect on the participation of young people in these activities and, worse, that goodwill has never been restored. We know that parents are grateful for teachers’ contributions in this area and for the fact that teachers spend their own money and give their own unpaid time for other school necessities. Our members are fully aware just how important and, frankly, necessary this goodwill contribution is. They are most reluctant to consider withdrawing it, but there is a limit.”

Q What is the recent history of employer/employee relations in the case of secondary school teachers?

AThe last dispute involving strike action was eight years ago. It lasted 18 months and was resolved through independent arbitration, which determined that in 2003 a catch-up increase of 12 per cent was justified for secondary teachers. Part of the resolution involved the setting up of a ministerial taskforce led by Madam Fixit for successive governments – Dame Margaret Bazley. The taskforce created what was supposed to be a blueprint for a decade. Teachers’ salaries were to be agreed according to a salary adjustment mechanism whereby increases were to be based on changes in median salaries reported by Statistics NZ.

The wage rises secondary teachers have had pursuant to the salary adjustment mechanism are:

  • 2004, 2.5%
  • 2005, 3%
  • 2006, 3%
  • 2007, 4%
  • 2008, 4%
  • 2009, 4%
  • 2010, yet to be agreed with government

Q Where to from here for the secondary school teachers?

A The PPTA is holding union meetings to discuss further industrial action which could include strike action, or possibly withdrawal of goodwill. Gainsford would not speculate on what might be decided at these meetings by the union members. Her term as president of the PPTA is now ending, although she will continue to be actively involved as immediate past president. Summary

The PPTA believes the government’s attitude to this industrial dispute is reflected in the make-up of the Ministry of Education’s negotiating team – two public sector heavyweights and a representative of the School Trustees Association. There is no room for anyone with an education background. The government’s stance from day one has been that in the light of current economic conditions all sectors have to live with tightened budgets. It will not agree to a four per cent wage rise.

Gainsford confirmed that before the PPTA claim was lodged early in 2010, members views were canvassed and in particular members were asked to consider the wider context (the state of the economy) in which they were contemplating a wage increase. The members overwhelmingly indicated that a four per cent wage increase was to be pursued. For many parents and taxpayers generally, working in the private sector or running their own businesses, the wage increases received by secondary teachers in the last eight years do not show a sector that has been left behind or hard done by.

Gainsford agrees the PPTA has to justify its wage claim in the light of general economic conditions, budget cuts and even job losses imposed on other sectors of the economy. The best way of doing this might be in the area of the goodwill contribution by teachers. Despite what Oscar Wilde had to say about price and value, there is a case for articulating more clearly the value both social and economic of all the extracurricular activities teachers facilitate in the interests of producing well-rounded young people as they progress into adulthood. There is an even stronger case for articulating the price, again both social and economic, of these activities not being facilitated by the goodwill of teachers.

At time of press, the PPTA was awaiting instructions from its members via union meetings and will take these to the next round of negotiations with the government.

Creative compromise

There could be a case for creative compromise, including teachers channeling some of their crucial goodwill contribution into New Zealand’s most intractable educational problem: the problem of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETS).

Māori Party leader Pita Sharples has recently emphasised that Māori and Pacific Island youth are tragically over-represented in this group. There are suggestions that teachers in each secondary school could identify and measure the goodwill contribution and earmark a proportion (say 10 per cent) that could be allocated in teacher goodwill time to a NEETS assistance project.

A project may take the form of, for instance, all the secondary schools in Palmerston North pooling their available (10 per cent) goodwill resources to run a pilot scheme at one school where such assistance is most required. In most schools some teachers will be contributing more goodwill time than others (not everyone can coach netball or cricket or produce the school play) so this is an opportunity for the others who are able to contribute more goodwill time to step up.

If secondary school teachers as a group are willing to commit a portion of their goodwill time to addressing the NEETS problem, all of New Zealand will be getting involved. Some parents in high decile schools might complain that teacher goodwill time at their school has been crimped to help pupils at a low decile school across town. The majority of parents, though, will be impressed. Politicians may finally give the problem the attention and resources it deserves.

Q How do New Zealand secondary teachers’ salaries compare with their international colleagues?

A The increase needed for New Zealand teachers to equal offshore salaries (as at 2007) would be:

  • Australia, 20.8%
  • US, 18.1%
  • England, 19.6%
  • Scotland, 30.2%.

New Zealand teachers rank higher than teachers from all of these countries on OECD performance league tables for secondary school teachers.

Q How do the numbers stack up?

A Comparisons between secondary teacher base pay rates and average weekly ordinary time income, 1978–2010.

Before 1985, the top of the teaching scale was about twice the average weekly ordinary time income (teachers cannot earn overtime).

The PPTA says from that point through the 1980s and 1990s there were regular annual improvements in the average weekly ordinary time pay, but secondary teacher salaries stagnated. There were long periods without increases and occasional improvements

which corresponded with significant secondary teacher shortages and industrial action by secondary teachers.

The association claims the teaching wage continued to decline relative to the average earnings of the rest of the workforce (which makes it hard to recruit and retain specialist secondary teachers) until the start of the 2000s.

An independent panel in 2002 found that secondary teacher salaries had deteriorated to the point where recruitment and retention was severely comprised and awarded a 12 per cent catch-up which it deemed fair to both teachers and the government. That increase still left secondary teacher salaries proportionately only at the point they had been at the end of the 1980s relative to other earners, and much lower than they had been in the mid 1980s or earlier.

The Ministerial Taskforce on Secondary Teacher wages, which followed in 2003, recommended regular annual increases in secondary teacher salaries to keep them current. That recommendation was the basis of the small annual increases which occurred between 2004 and 2009. These increases were based upon the change in the median salary reported by Statistics NZ in the year of the settlement (the salary adjustment mechanism, or SAM). Even with those increases the relativity of earnings of secondary teachers declines slightly over that period and is continuing to erode.

According to the PPTA the three, four per cent increases from 2007 to 2009 were part of a catch-up of secondary teacher salaries to compensate for the serious decline they had undergone mostly during the 1990s in order to avoid the need for industrial action to address teacher shortages. They were the consequence of recommendations from the Bazley Taskforce in 2003.

Put bluntly, the closer the secondary teacher pay rates get to the average income the fewer people want to be teachers and the more intense the supply problems become. PPTA says its pay claim is about preventing the current supply pressures from turning into critical secondary teacher shortages in the near future.