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“Dear Jacinda… Staff are not the problem”

“Dear Jacinda… Staff are not the problem”

Cabinet Ministers telling staff that good working conditions are an impediment to the success of institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITP) was a mistake, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been told in an open letter published today by the Tertiary Education Union (TEU).

The letter features a selection of nearly two hundred personal stories that show the lengths staff go to teach their students - and follows publication last month of a Cabinet paper written by Education Minister Chris Hipkins arguing that these hard-working, dedicated and talented people are holding ITPs back. Published as part of the Prime Minister’s Education Conversation, the letter proves that the statement in the Minister’s Cabinet paper is wrong and lacks any evidence.

Approved by the Prime Minister and her Cabinet in March, the Cabinet paper set out Chris Hipkins’ preferred approach to reform of the ITP sector. In it, the Minister says the collective agreements TEU negotiates with ITP employers are not flexible enough – that they stop staff from working longer hours and are a barrier to ITPs wanting to reduce staff costs. The Minister used this argument to persuade his Cabinet colleagues that ITPs should be allowed to renegotiate conditions of work in the sector so staff can be used “more efficiently.”

Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, said: “It was a real kick in the teeth for our members to see the Minister for Education arguing in favour of poorer working conditions for tertiary education staff. Thankfully both he and the Tertiary Education Commission backed down from the statements made in the Cabinet Paper at our conference on Friday, but they should never have been made in the first place. Ministers are, of course, extremely busy, but more care needs to be taken to make sure papers that have the potential to cause serious harm and undermine trust in this government are not waved through without proper scrutiny.

“Staff working in the tertiary education sector go to extraordinary lengths to make sure students get the best possible learning experience. This often means working long hours and weekends. Good working conditions are absolutely essential to the successful, inclusive and equitable tertiary education sector the Minister wants. As this letter shows, our collective agreements already allow for staff to put in huge amounts of time, energy and skill into ensuring students get the best possible learning experience."

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