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‘We’re walking away – we just can’t afford it’

Student journalist
Indila Holani chats to the Wairarapa teachers spending another day on the picket line – some of whom are struggling to afford basic food staples.

Teacher Andrew Watson approached the broccoli in the supermarket, looked at the price, and walked away.

Earlier this month, he was back on strike for the third time this week – in hopes he could eventually afford such healthy food.

“I’m still struggling in the supermarket to buy groceries,” Watson said while standing in the protest line outside Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty’s office on May 10.

Rolling secondary teacher strikes will continue in Wairarapa until June 8, as the Post-Primary Teachers Association [PPTA] remains locked in negotiations with the Ministry of Education over teachers’ pay rates and working conditions.

Last fortnight’s strike came two days after the Ministry presented the PPTA with a new offer – which the union said was still not enough to address the rising cost of living.

Holding a sign reading “I teach to empower students”, Watson said he had “followed the rules and regulations” for 23 years as a teacher, but the system is no longer working.

“Teachers are walking away because, at this rate, we just can’t afford it,” he said.

“Interest rates are going up, prices are going up. The offer that’s been given to us is insulting. You get how serious the teachers are when after three strike days, it’s over $1000 in lost wages.

“We’re not just doing it for us, we’re doing it for future teachers and people who want to become teachers.”

People do not realise the hours teachers put in, English teacher Michelle Senior added.

“I think the perception is that we come to school at 8:30am and leave at 3pm. Most people come to work at 7:30am and we don’t go home until well after 5pm,” Senior said.

“It’s long hours: We work on weekends, we work through the holidays.

“We work for the youth of this country, educating them. We teach our young people how to communicate in the world.”

Standing next to Senior at the protest was fellow English teacher Janie Moore holding a sign that said, “Invest in teachers, invest in Aotearoa”.

She said the literacy level in New Zealand is low and that teachers are heavily focused on improving that.

“Often, we are dealing with difficult students,” Moore said.

Holding a sign stating, “Strong education = strong society”, Colette Nickelsen said the government offer was “basically giving teachers a pay cut”.

“The government is dragging the whole process out and the secondary teachers’ collective agreement runs out in six weeks, so they are stuck in a tricky situation,” she said.

Nickelsen said it is hard to attract new teachers, and pointed to statistics that show one in five new teachers leave within five years because they are getting burnt out.

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