John Gerritsen, Education Correspondent
Pay talks for primary school teachers begin today and the outcome will be critical for resolving the teacher shortage, the New Zealand Educational Institute union says.
The union's national secretary Paul Goulter said it was seeking a 16 percent pay rise and improved working conditions, especially with regard to support for children with special education needs.
Mr Goulter last year warned teachers to expect the industrial battle of their lifetime and this week he said the change of government would not make the negotiations simple.
"Teachers and principals in our meetings we've held all round the country realise this isn't go to be easy. The government have got fiscal constraints, we're aware of that, but quite simply there cannot be any second measures when it comes to fixing the crisis in the education system," he said.
Te Aro School teachers in Wellington said they agreed that a pay rise was needed, but some were more worried about working conditions.
Principal Sue Clement said many teachers wanted more support for their students with special needs.
"The teachers here at Te Aro are most concerned about working conditions and in particular they're really concerned about increased funding for our special needs and our students with learning support needs and also they know that smaller classes do matter and they would whole-heartedly support those conditions of our work changing."
One new teacher, Andy Mackay, said that based on his previous jobs teachers definitely deserved a big pay rise.
"We are very much behind where we get paid compared to other people in the public sector," he said.
Mr Mackay said 16 percent sounded like a big increase, but for beginner teachers it equated to about $6000 to $7000, and that was the sort of pay rise people received in other sectors if they changed roles or moved up a pay grade.
Teacher Bernice McMahon said a significant pay rise was "absolutely vital" for attracting more people into the profession.
"There are many teachers who are a similar age to me, which is coming up to retirement in the next five years or so, and we need to get more young people coming into teaching," she said.
Ms McMahon also supported the union's claim for government-funded special education co-ordinators in every school.
"We get very little support from the ministry for the kids, even the kids at the highest level who have ORS funding, and it's not from lack of will from the ministry it's just that there aren't enough bodies to go around, so it's absolutely essential that funding for those kids is improved."
Teacher Cathie Cahill said pay was important, but working conditions were top of mind for her and many of her colleagues.
"Within this round I think we would be more interested in seeing an improvement in teacher conditions. Issues like additional support for students with extra learning needs would be a key one for most of the teachers that I work with and also I think that class size continues to be a huge issue."