Aotearoa/New Zealand’s largest ever nationwide education “mega-strike” took place on Wednesday 29 May. There was a mood of determination, enthusiasm and strong solidarity shown with the participation of teachers, principals, parents, students and the public.
It was the first time that the two teacher unions have coordinated strike action across the entire compulsory schooling sector. The strike involved approximately 50,000 teachers—and three quarters of a million children stayed away from state and state-integrated religious schools. For primary teachers this is the third day of strike action since their collective agreement expired on 8 June 2018.
Tens of thousands of teachers, principals, parents and members of the wider community participated in nationwide public protests. In Auckland the march was 15,000-strong, taking over 20 minutes for all the marchers to pass.
The strike was very widely supported by parents and the public. Many attended the protests while others assisted with childcare for parents who had to go to work. This included some employers allowing workers’ children to be taken to work for the day.
The current Labour, New Zealand First and Green Party Coalition Government have refused to negotiate effective solutions to the real and growing crisis in NZ education. This crisis is the result of 35 years of neoliberal governments deliberately underfunding education whilst attacking effective teaching practices and structuring education on a business model where schools are left to compete against each other for students and funds.
Teacher unionists have steadfastly resisted these changes. They have defended the right of every child to attend an excellent school, and to meet their full potential.
Now teachers, as government workers who have high expectations of the Labour government, are demanding that it fix the crisis.
The teacher unions have been trying to negotiate pay, teaching and learning conditions that will attract and retain teachers, including reduced workloads and additional support staff. Teachers are demanding that the government fund education so that every child, including those with additional needs, receives the personal attention they need to learn and thrive.
Prior to the strike Linda Stuart, president of NZEI
Te Riu Roa, the union representing primary school teachers, said that, “The
outcome shows teachers and principals are united and resolute in their commitment
to getting significantly improved pay, time and support for learning needs.”
“The offers we have received from the government have not addressed the issues our profession is facing. They will not turn around the crisis in education that is looming.” This is why prior to the mega-strike the NZEI was appealing the Government’s legal move to force the NZEI into industrial mediation.
Since the mega-strike the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, has called for a forum with the leadership of the teacher unions to resolve what he called an impasse over pay and conditions. However, secondary school teachers went ahead with their first rolling stoppage two days before the renewal of negotiations.
Linda Stuart’s very firm stance is that NZEI Te Riu Roa is returning to negotiations on the very clear understanding that the Government must have a serious offer to deliver the teachers’ demands and resolve the education crisis. As Ms Stuart has stated on a number of occasions, “Teachers have spoken—they want the government to find a solution, now. Our children cannot wait and neither can our teachers.”
Jack Boyle, President of the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) stated that, “It is hugely disappointing that we have reached this point. We want to work with the government to find solutions that make teaching the attractive career it should be.” He added that, “A well resourced, equitable education system is essential for a healthy society. We hope the government acts on its principles and makes that happen.”
The PPTA is continuing nationwide industrial action each week beginning with “rostered-home” year levels, where teachers refuse to teach one year level for a day, starting on Tuesday 4 June. “Rolling Regional Strikes” for a full day across each region are set to follow from 17 June. Each region will strike on a different day, creating a week-long strike action across the country. PPTA members are sending a crystal clear message to the Government that they want the crisis effectively resolved.
By Anna Lee
Retired teacher and member of NZEI Te Riu Roa