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Dinosaur Union in Meltdown

Dinosaur Union in Meltdown

A personal comment on the NZ Post Primary Teachers’ Association, by Don Roberts, Head of Technology at Putaruru High School and a PPTA member for almost 60% of its existence.

Fifty years ago, PPTA was formed to represent all secondary teachers in New Zealand. PPTA has become selective in their representations. They are more concerned that secondary teachers are all to be ‘3 year Bachelor Degree Holders with a teaching qualification’ (3DH/TQ) than accepting the realities that all fully qualified teachers in the classroom are not 3DH/TQ. Reality at the chalkface has differed a quantum since 1952.

25 to 30% of PPTA members – fully qualified and trained teachers – real teachers – are not 3DH/TQ but are equally qualified by other ‘subject’ means. For example a Woodwork teacher would have Advanced Trade Certificate plus Teacher Training.

Education Minister Mallard says 3DH/TQ ‘…has been the stated policy of different Governments over the past thirty years.’ Still the goal has not been achieved – an unachievable goal, or an achievable goal stifled by an ineffective union?

PPTA has been called the ‘Last of the Dinosaur Unions’ though I prefer ‘Ostrich in the Sandstorm’ myself! It is one of the last remaining collectives that operates a ‘closed shop’ policy. PPTA dictates $554.34pa to be a member (from 5 Feb 2003.)

How well had PPTA achieved over the past thirty years? Under the State Sector Act 1988, PPTA legally represents All secondary teachers, though many choose not to be members. It therefore negotiates for 25% of teachers from whom they have no mandate. Their conditions of employment are decided by PPTA, unless they can negotiate an Individual Agreement with the ‘employer’.

The recent 18 months of dispute seemed more about spin-doctoring ‘public opinion’ than settling the claim. PPTA and the Ministry took 18 months to stalemate, the arbitration panel three weeks to settle! In the past 20 odd years, the secondary teachers’ pay rise average has been 1.8%pa, half the cost of living rise during the same period. Can PPTA be said to have won a salary that will attract 3DH/TQ? I doubt it and the reality shows it to be so.

All pay disputes I have known follow the same pensioned off pattern: write to papers, lobby MPs, occasional day strike, bans on meetings and sports, march with banners, Paid Union Meetings, settlement! Hardly militant or guaranted to make the employer take notice. Some PPTA members got hot under the collar this year and took ‘direct action’ – and the PPTA President seemed blind to the fact that members were signalling no confidence in the leadership’s ability.

30 years of the same by PPTA equals 1.8% salary rise per annum. Take the same actions – get the same results. Brilliant consistent industrial relations strategy.

PPTA’s policy of 3DH/TQ seems in tatters anyway. Daily PPTA ignores the qualifications of many in front of students. Schools having no reserves for day relief, are forced to employ anyone who is willing to occupy 30 teenagers not wanting to work. Staffers blindly ignore the 3DH/TQ policy because their responsibility is to ensure students are taught daily.

Technical teachers in fact seem more qualified in their subject than 3DH/TQ. Any apprentice works 8,000 hours before qualification, practicing what they will teach. What hours does it take to gain a University degree – 4,000 hours? Can 9 months part-time at Teachers’ College and a few week’s practice be equated to 8,000 hours work on a Real Job?

What is Reality? For 50 years PPTA has been unsuccessful in representing all members and improving all conditions. This year it has been shown to be elitist, holding only ‘concerns’ for those it disadvantages, taking little or no action in certain minority causes as it is easier to fight majority causes, and gaining quick settlements without presenting the ‘hidden details’ to members.

30% of PPTA members were ‘disaffected’ by PPTA’s panic capitulation just before election day. PPTA publicly agrees that they will not represent The Real Teachers in the same way they will 3DH/TQ. It is clear the PPTA is the 3DH/TQ Union and will be there for no-one else. A PPTA Executive paper on future remuneration shows additional salary steps for 3DH/TQ while the Real teachers remain on 1999 salary steps.

Degree equivalent teachers are being required to justify their Degree equivalent qualifications again and against a new standard, to be able to remain on a salary step already approved – why? PPTA’s incoming Vice President sounded like an employer when she claimed “Teachers had got into Group 3 equivalent with shonky qualifications and they need to be sorted out.”

One PPTA member who spoke out publicly in support of The Real Teachers not represented by PPTA had a Code of Ethics case taken against him by the PPTA Senior Vice President over a debate on National Radio. Is there no free speech in PPTA?

In 2003, a new PPTA President takes office after 12% of the members voted for him. Clearly he has little mandate to represent secondary teachers in New Zealand.

All PPTA members were directed to vote on ratification of the Arbitration proposal in their school Branches. Cunning move this – no consequences for Executive members at large region wide meetings. 88% of members who voted, accepted the presented deal. Yet after the deal was done, the PPTA in late October sent out twelve pages of changes to the Collective Agreement that were not advised to members at the time of voting! Some changes clearly disadvantaged some members financially. It appears PPTA accepted changes after the deal was voted on.

Who are these disgruntled PPTA members and non-members – they are Real Teachers doing a Real Job in our schools. Where to now for teachers feeling malcontented with PPTA? Join NZEI? Stay isolated? Maybe join another union?

Clearly there just may be a window of unionism opportunity opening for a body to represent all the Real Teachers doing a Real Job that do not hold ‘3 year Bachelor Degree Holders plus a teaching qualification’ status. Now there’s a thought to get my industrial teeth into.

Don Roberts comes from a strong Union background in England, where several Unions represent sections of the teaching profession – a title itself sadly misleading to potential entrants today.

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