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The union, the NZ Educational Institute (NZEI), has referred three cases to the Labour Inspectorate’s migrant exploitation unit and says at least 60 NZ-trained teachers are also being paid below the minimum wage.
The Ministry of Education has confirmed “there are a small number of teachers who are being paid below the minimum wage” because their qualifications and experience are still being assessed to determine their correct pay rates.
It had told the union the problem would be fixed and all affected teachers would receive back pay to their correct pay rates by May 8.
But one of the affected teachers, Singapore-trained Xijuan (Regine) Hou, said she was shocked at the way teachers were treated in a developed country like New Zealand.
“I never expected New Zealand to be so bureaucratic,” she said.
“I never imagined a profession that moulds the future generation of a nation to receive such ill treatment from so many stakeholders here.”
Hou, aged 33, has a psychology degree and a teaching qualification and taught in Singapore for six years before coming to New Zealand in 2016 with her husband, a lawyer.
She was told that her Singapore qualification was only considered to be Level 5 on the NZ qualifications framework, two levels below a degree, so she did a postgraduate teaching diploma at Victoria University in Wellington last year.
Despite that, she is being paid just $1245 a fortnight before tax on the “untrained employee” pay rate as a fulltime classroom teacher at Arahoe School in New Lynn.
That’s just $622.45 a week, or $15.56 an hour for a 40-hour week - $2.14 an hour below the legal minimum wage, which increased on April 1 from $16.50 to $17.70 an hour.
Michaela Reardon, a 28-year-old United States-trained teacher, has been on the same $1245 fortnightly pay rate since the start of this year, initially at Sommerville Special School and from next term at Parnell District School.
She has a master’s degree in education and taught for three years in the US while getting a postgraduate teaching qualification. She did a practical placement at Mellons Bay School in Howick last year and applied to Sommerville while she was there.
“I really loved New Zealand so I decided to come back,” she said.
Reardon gets just under $500 a week after tax and pays $250 a week to rent a room in a flat. She has run through all her savings and has had to ask her family to send money from the US to keep her afloat.
“It’s pretty frustrating. It’s hard to live on this much in Auckland. It cost me a lot of money to move here too,” she said.
Anna Pryde, 26, a first-year NZ-trained teacher at Panmure Bridge School, said she was also still on the $1245 fortnightly pay rate because the education payroll company Novopay was waiting for a security clearance from the US, where she worked three and a half years ago.
She also gets $980 a fortnight after tax and pays $700 for rent and power.
NZEI campaign director Stephanie Mills said teachers “absolutely should not be in this position”.
“This is not just about correcting payments, this is about the ministry breaching their obligation to pay above the legal minimum wage,” she said.
The ministry’s head of infrastructure service Kim Shannon said “the great majority” of teachers were paid on the correct rates.
“A small number of the teaching workforce have been impacted as a result of the new minimum wage rate applying from April 1,” she said.
“We are not aware of any overseas teachers recruited by our approved recruitment providers being affected.
“However, we will reach out to our recruitment providers tomorrow to be absolutely sure that all the teachers they have recruited are on the correct pay rate. If there are any overseas teachers, including those not recruited through ministry recruiters, who are concerned about their pay rate, they should get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are currently working with our payroll provider to ensure that all teachers are being paid correctly. We are committed to ensuring that minimum wage adjustments are captured across all the schools payroll workforce in the future.
“We will continue to keep schools and teachers updated.”