So who do you feel sorry for: primary school teachers who say they are undervalued, underpaid and overworked?
Or Education Minister Chris Hipkins, who is “disappointed” teachers are going on strike, despite the government’s “strong new offer”.
Political aficionados might find some irony in the whole affair. Teachers were desperate for the Labour Party to win the Treasury benches, knowing it would be a relatively soft touch after nine years of a flinty-faced National government.
And Hipkins early in his term sought to cosy up to the teachers’ union by bending to their demand that charter schools be abolished.
Now it’s a stand off.
Teachers are striking because the NZEI is demanding a package of proposals which would cost the government $2.5 billion.
And Hipkins, after dipping deep into the taxpayers’ pockets to the tune of $700m, insists there’s no more money.
What’s the betting he will crack?
Last-ditch negotiations, which yielded an improved pay offer from the Ministry of Education, was not enough to avert the industrial action, with rolling strikes beginning in Auckland. This follows a national strike in August, and the rejection of a second offer last month.
In all this, there’s not a word about raising standards of education in schools or extracting commitments from the teachers’ union to lift teaching performance. Yet some authorities note that while 67% NZ Asians in schools achieve UE and European 44%, only 22% of Pasifika and 19% of Māori reach that level.
Student scores in the PISA test of maths, science, and reading are now at their lowest point since testing began in 2000.
All Hipkins does is bleat that “NZEI let their members down by not allowing them to consider the new offer before going on strike”.
The new offer, he says, is worth $698m, an increase of $129m from the previous offer. It means most teachers would get between $9,500 and $11,000 extra annually in their pay packets by 2020.
Still feeling sorry for the teachers?
Here’s what the chief of the Employment Relations Authority, James Crichton had to say:
“My prevailing impression is that NZEI came into the process (of facilitation) with a series of proposals which taken in their totality had an air of unreality about them. The total cost of conceding their proposals was costed at around $2.5bn. Put simply, that is an unrealistic impost on any employer, including the government.”
Crichton went on:
“The ministry’s offer is a handsome and competitive proposal in the current fiscal environment and my considered view is that were the NZEI’s negotiating team not saddled with totally unrealistic riding instructions, it would and should have been accepted.”
His “strong” recommendation had been that NZEI members should accept the package.
Crichton was “genuinely disappointed” the facilitation failed to avert the strike. He noted the government is committed to working with teachers to gradually address the sector’s needs.
Perhaps the NZEI is relying on another dose of “kindness” from the PM, Jacinda Ardern, to resolve the issue.
But if she does apply her now legendary charm to achieve a solution it will put Hipkins in a bind. He knows secondary school teachers are in the queue and then others in the education sector will be looking to improve on whatever those who have gone before have extracted.
In the end Hipkins may regret the $2bn splashed out by the coalition government on a fee-free first year for university students.
There’s an even more bitter irony in this wrangling. Education should be one of the first steps out of child poverty—but the members of the NZEI seem interested only in eliminating what they are believe are inequities in their own rewards.