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Teachers take to the picket line

Wairarapa teachers joined thousands of colleagues around New Zealand in walking off the job yesterday over stalled pay negotiations with the Ministry of Education. MARY ARGUE spoke to Masterton protesters.

After a gruelling few years educators say the latest pay offer – which fails to keep pace with inflation – is simply the last straw.

The region’s teachers turned out in force in Featherston and Masterton yesterday to protest for better pay and working conditions, and issued a plea to the government to invest in the nation’s youth.

The action organised by the Post Primary Teachers Association [PPTA] and the New Zealand Educational Institute, resulted in kindergartens and primary and secondary schools closing across Wairarapa.

It was the first time teachers across all education sectors had joined together to strike.

Primary school teacher Rochelle Aldridge said the protest was not just about better pay; teachers were crying out for support.

“I’m a parent with three children, two of them with special needs, and we are told that we would get support if they were worse behaved in class.

“This is about getting support for our children. I’m tutoring at home after school to fill the gaps.”

She said attracting and retaining more teachers and teacher aids is fundamental to reducing class sizes – a prerequisite for an effective learning environment.

“We get paid 40 hours a week, but easily put 50-70 hours in for our children, for your children.”

Wairarapa PPTA chair Ryan McCroskery said the union has been in negotiation with the Ministry of Education since May last year.

“We are here because the government is no longer negotiating with us and we feel the package put forward will not actually advance education in this country.

“It’s going backwards.”

McCroskery said “sky-high” inflation means that accepting the latest offer would equate to a pay cut and severely limit future bargaining capability.

“If you can’t keep up with inflation, why would you choose teaching? You wouldn’t. I know there is passion for the job, but it doesn’t pay the bills.”

According to McCroskery, teaching is currently not an attractive profession, resulting in low uptake and high attrition.

He said the impact of limited resources extended beyond simply education.

“As a dean, I’m seeing the need for pastoral care outside the classroom really spike, and it’s putting pressure on my time. I’m trying my hardest, but I can’t get to everything.

“We can’t get the support, and we don’t have the teachers to do it; how are we supposed to help our young people?”

Teachers on the picket line said working conditions are often a shock to new teachers, with Wairarapa PPTA secretary Lauren Tauveli maintaining few are entering the profession.

“We have a second-year teacher at our school whose partner working in retail earns more than him, and there’s no after-school work, no stress, no student loan – how are you meant to convince people teaching is an attractive job?”

Education Minister Jan Tinetti said yesterday that the Government was committed to doing better.

“Today is your day of action; tomorrow, we’re back at the table.”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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