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Kindergarten Teachers Vote To Strike

December 2, 2005

Kindergarten Teachers Vote To Strike To Protect Education Quality

Kindergarten teachers have voted to strike for a day next week to protect the quality of education they provide to 45,000 children and families throughout the country.

They voted to strike at a series of 40 two hour stopwork meetings held throughout the country that began on Monday and ended at 12.30pm today. The vote was 97% in favour of striking. The strike will be held on Thursday December 8 and involves 1650 kindergarten teachers' who belong to NZEI Te Riu Roa.

"This is just the third time that kindergarten teachers have taken national strike action in 121 years, which shows the seriousness of the situation," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Colin Tarr.

"Kindergarten teachers are taking this action because their employers want to be able to impose working conditions on them that will erode the quality of education they provide to 45,000 children and their families throughout the country."

The decision by kindergarten teachers to strike follows a break down in their negotiations for a new collective employment agreement. The talks with the Ministry of Education, New Zealand Kindergartens Incorporated and the Zealand Federation of Free Kindergartens broke down because the employers are demanding changes to the teachers' working conditions that threaten the quality of education provided at kindergartens.

The employers are: * Refusing to recognise in their collective agreement, that kindergarten teachers need to continue having term breaks, like their colleagues in primary and secondary schools. * Demanding the ability to increase the level of contact time (the time teachers work directly with children) to a level that will cause teacher burnout and will erode education quality. * Refusing to recognise the extra responsibilities shouldered by head and senior kindergarten teachers by refusing to pay them at the benchmark level agreed when kindergarten teachers gained pay parity with primary and secondary teachers.

"Not having term breaks and increasing contact hours to unsustainable levels will cause kindergarten teachers to burnout," says Colin Tarr. "This means the quality of education they provide to children will inevitably suffer."

"Kindergarten teachers and the children they teach need term breaks, just like the teachers and students at primary and secondary teachers need term breaks."

"The increases in contact time the employers are demanding are excessive," says Colin Tarr. Most kindergartens currently provide 22 to 26 hours of contact time with children a week. The employers are seeking the right to increase this to up to 35 hours a week. By contrast primary schools provide 24 hours and secondary schools 20 hours contact time a week. The average contact time for primary schools among the 30 countries that make up the OECD is 20 hours a week. "Kindergarten teachers are taking a stand against these demands and have reported widespread support from parents this week as they walked off the job to attend the stopworks," says Colin Tarr. "The teachers are now going on strike because they're determined to protect the quality of education that they provide."

Why kindergarten teachers need term breaks.

Almost all kindergartens currently have a four term year, like primary and secondary schools. However their breaks between terms are now under threat. That's because funding changes mean their employers, if they choose, can be funded to keep their kindergartens open for 52 weeks a year. "Kindergarten teachers, and the children they teach, need term breaks, just like teachers and students in primary and secondary schools need breaks," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Colin Tarr.

Most kindergartens teachers are working with up to 90 children and families every day. Without regular breaks during the year, it's physically and mentally impossible for them to maintain the energy levels they need to provide a quality education for their centre's children. The breaks also provide time for planning and assessment, to catch up on administrative work and to engage in professional development.

Most schools provide teaching for 40 weeks a year, while most kindergartens provide 41 to 42 weeks. The teachers have tabled a claim that kindergarten terms should not exceed 11 weeks and the teaching year should not exceed 42 weeks. Their employers have rejected the teachers' claim.

Why the employer claim for contact time is excessive.

Kindergarten teachers are expected to work a minimum of 40 hours per week. They currently spend an average of 25 hours in contact time actively engaged with children. The other 15 hours, of their 40 hour week, is known as non contact time. This is time spent doing a wide range of essential tasks including work on each child's learning programme, working with each child's family, professional development and administration.

New Zealand primary teachers provide 24 contact hours a week, the highest level for primary schools among the 30 OECD countries. The average contact time for OECD schools is 20 hours a week. The employers are demanding teachers provide up to 35 hours contact time a week in full day kindergartens and 30 hours a week in sessional centres.

"Extending contact time to 30 or 35 hours a week is unworkable as it would not allow enough time for teachers to do essential non contact work," says Colin Tarr. "It could also lead to teacher burnout because of the large number of children and families that kindergarten teachers' work with every day."

This is why the teachers have tabled a claim stating that contact time should not exceed 26 hours a week in sessional kindergartens and 30 hours a week in full day kindergartens.

Why head and senior kindergarten teachers are not being fairly rewarded.

Head teachers run individual kindergartens while senior teachers oversee the teaching done at a number of kindergartens in the area in which they're based. Because of their extra responsibilities they are paid at a higher rate than kindergarten teachers. The rate was benchmarked at the top of the pay scale in 2002 when NZEI negotiated pay parity for kindergarten teachers with primary and secondary teachers.

"The problem is the margin has closed because of the insertion of a new top step in the pay scale," says Colin Tarr. "This is why the teachers have tabled a claim to restore the relativity, or pay gap, for head and senior teachers, that was established when kindergarten teachers gained pay parity in 2002."

"The employers are refusing to restore the relativity, which means head and senior teachers are no longer being fairly rewarded for the work they do," says Colin Tarr.


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