Teachers and pay claims merits

Teachers and supporters packed the Octagon this afternoon. Photo: Craig Baxter
Teachers and supporters packed the Octagon for the teacher strike. Photo: Craig Baxter
The teachers struck and articulated their grievances effectively. They did a fine job winning public sympathy and pressuring the Government.

In return, the Government has agreed to a package of substantial increases, other conditions to ameliorate workloads and ways forward to consider other changes.

This is all well and good. Everyone knows teachers must be valued and that good teachers make a massive difference to the lives and the future of children.

No-one, therefore, should begrudge good salaries to capable teachers who work long hours. There remains a niggle, however, that the inadequate and not so dedicated teachers also reap much of the reward. They, too, while perhaps missing out on extra pay modules for additional responsibilities, will rise to earn far in excess of average New Zealand incomes.

It is, and always will be, difficult and subjective to incorporate performance pay - and the teacher unions stand firm on this matter. Fair enough. But if teachers exceptional, average and poor are going to receive the same pay then that flattens salary levels.

Despite this, teachers have done well and primary teachers have voted to support the latest Government offer. Primary principals, though, voted against. A deal breaker was that principals at small schools would earn less than senior staff at large schools.

The argument goes that the principals at any size school have the same types of responsibilities and many of the same duties. Tasks could even be more onerous without team back-up. Yet, a deputy principal at a larger school might earn more.

On the surface, the principals' views appeal. But, as so often occurs, closer examination reveals a potentially valid counter argument. Senior staff members at a large school can maintain they have wide-ranging and heavy-duty responsibilities for much, much larger numbers of pupils as well as other staff. They deserve more in the relativity stakes than principals of sole-charge schools, they might say.

It is also true that senior managers in many large businesses earn more, often far more, than bosses at small businesses. Yet, the buck stops with the bosses of businesses both big and tiny. Like principals at small schools, it can be asserted the heads of small businesses are underpaid - or not, as the case may be.

It would seem in the arguments for the high ground that pay "relativity" becomes the crux, not the actual level of pay. As Education Minister Chris Hipkins said, the majority of principals will earn more than $100,000 and receive $15,000-plus rises over three years.

Mr Hipkins says there is no more money to pay principals, although a rejuggling of the current offer remains an option. But Mr Hipkins had earlier been adamant about no more money, and then found some.

There have been differing views over the years about "pay parity" between primary and secondary schools. On the one hand, a physics teacher requires challenging specialist knowledge. On the other, a new-entrant teacher needs a diverse range of skills and faces a different set of demanding challenges.

Pay parity was achieved between the sectors, and then was undermined. The Government's offer restores parity. This means the secondary teachers, who are yet to vote, will receive increases of lesser magnitude, though they will be much larger than rises for most workers in most fields.

In an era where powerful state unions battle it out with the Government and health boards, when the Employment Relations Authority can set collective pay rates, of "pay equity" settlements and "fair pay" agreements, expect all sorts of arguments about work value, difficulty and so forth. Recognise, however, that these comparisons are often tendentious, subjective and open to question. It would seem that whatever job is in the limelight, support for claims will be tilted in that direction.



'State' Unions. Comprising workers who do more than the job specifications - breaking up fights and Social Work in teaching, long hours and exhaustion in health provision.