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Secondary Teachers Strike Is Right And Just

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

The rolling strikes being planned by members of the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) over the poor offer made by the Education Ministry are right and just.

Again, I hear the usual complaints. Teachers are greedy. They are asking for more than the average worker. No one has gained a pay rise over the last two years. Secondary teachers have been treated generously compared to other public servants. The litany of lies propagated by the Education Minister Anne Tolley and her ministry industrial relations lackeys go on unchallenged.

Well, it is true that teachers are paid on average around $71,000. However, according to a teacher who emailed National Radio's Morning Report today, that is only an average only as many teachers (including him or herself) are not paid that much at all. After all, a graduate teacher starts out on $37,000 a year! That's criminal when you think that most graduates leave university with a burdensome debt already hanging around their necks!

As for their asking more than the average worker, I would say that many teachers work exceedingly hard. Some people tend to think that teachers work between 8.30am and 3.00pm and get stacks of holidays and breaks in between. The reality is different in that teachers not only teach but also have to deal with high administrative workloads (mainly NCEA-related assessments), prepare teaching schedules often weeks in advance, undertake extra duties like lunchtime and break duty to ensure student safety, and assess/mark students work in a timely manner. Often forgotten too (even by some parents) is the effort that teachers make to facilitate extra-curricular activities like sports teams and cultural clubs. This is often in out-of-school time and at weekends, which are times when they could be doing things with their own families.

Given all that and the huge role they do play in shaping the young minds of tomorrow, they should be paid what they are truly worth. While I acknowledge the hardship this will place parents and students under at this time of year, especially with exams looming, I say that teachers have resorted to using the one critical weapon in their armoury - the strike weapon - to make their point. I would say that with inflation looking to go over 4 percent with the recent rise in GST, teachers and, in fact, all workers deserve a decent pay rise this year. If all workers joined unions (like most teachers do) and pushed for higher wages through that route, then everyone would be better off. It's the bosses who play off one worker against another and this impacts on collective worker solidarity. In many cases, teachers work 50-60 hour weeks, even more. Therefore, that's why I and other socialists believe in the need for all workers to show solidarity with teachers. Even if you are a parent, you have to be thankful that your child is getting a decent education and that they will be (hopefully) the better for it.

As for affordability issues, the Government does have the dollars to pay teachers (and even disability support workers) more but it prefers to fritter them away on tax cuts for the wealthy and bailouts for rich businessmen like Alan Hubbard instead. If the Nats didn't do this, then there would be money in the kitty to settle fair pay deals with teachers and other public servants like Justice Ministry court clerks, nurses, junior doctors and now teachers. However, all government agencies are being starved of taxpayer resources in a deliberate attempt to minimise the role of the state for solely ideological reasons. Dare I say more?

Teachers should fight tooth and nail against any minimal pay deal and a roll back of conditions. Strikes are often deliberately timed to cause inconvenience in order to push a point home to employers that they can't take their workforces for granted. I ask every secondary school pupil and parent and every worker to show solidarity with our teachers who front one of the best education systems in the Western world.

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