Christchurch teachers to strike over reforms

Christchurch teachers have today voted to strike in protest against radical Government education reforms in the rebuilding city.

Teachers and principals voted for the action on February 19 next year - the day after the Ministry of Education is due to reveal its controversial plans.

The action was decided at a crunch teachers' union meeting after rising anger and concern over a Government proposal to merge or close 39 schools in the city rebuilding from the devastating earthquakes.

More than 83 per cent voted for strike action, with 520 of 846 voters backing a strike on February 19.

Just 13 per cent voted no.

"This strike is technically unlawful, yes it is, but when you look the parents in the eye and you say 'We are doing it for your children', they will understand," said John Leadbetter, a teacher at Parkview school, which has escaped any threat of change.

He spoke passionately about the role teachers played in their communities, especially after the deadly February 22 quake.

"I did not know of one single teacher who ran out the gate to look after their families. We stayed, we did our jobs, we cared for our kids, and we've continued to care about them every single day since," he said, to resounding applause.

Mr Leadbetter urged his colleagues to vote for a strike in February, rather than next Wednesday which was the other ballot option, along with no strike action at all, to tell the Government "enough is enough".

"We are not guinea pigs. Schools are the centre of the community and everyone in this room are the guardians of those schools," he said.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) union president Ian Leckie said the Government proposals to close 13 schools and put 26 through some form of merger was based on "wrong or poor quality information".

Mr Leckie applauded the Christchurch teachers for making a stand against the unnecessary disruption and radical reform.

He said teachers had provided a "normality and stability while everything else was shaking" during and after the devastating earthquakes.

Today's vote showed they refused to be used as guinea pigs for a Government agenda which they'd like to see rolled out across the country, he said.

Sandra Spekreijse, local union member, chaired the meeting and read out apologies from a host of politicians, including Hekia Parata who was "unavailable", which was met by risible groans.

Almost 900 teachers and principals filled the Christchurch Riding for the Disabled Indoor Arena and suffered temperatures soaring above 30 degrees to make themselves heard.

They waved placards which stated 'Listen to Christchurch - genuine democracy, genuine consultation' and were vocal in their support of the action.

A petition signed by 7,000 teachers from across New Zealand, was handed to Megan Woods, MP for Wigram, to pass on to Prime Minister John Key.

After the vote, most teachers were delighted with the result.

"It's pretty clear cut, isn't it," said Niki Penny, a teacher at Branston Intermediate, a school in Hornby earmarked for merger.

Strike action was not something teachers took lightly, she said, but added that the Government had left them with no option.

"The parents and local communities are right behind us on this and feelings are running high," Ms. Penny said.

"This is not about stuff you might traditionally strike for - it's about protecting the future of our kids."

 

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