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Talks Break Down Over Attack On Conditions

November 17, 2005

Kindergarten Teachers' Talks Break Down Over Attack On Conditions

An attack on kindergarten teachers' working conditions that will erode their ability to maintain the quality of education they provide for 45,000 children, has led to a break down in the negotiations for a new collective employment agreement covering 1630 kindergarten teachers.

The teachers, who belong to NZEI Te Riu Roa, began negotiating a new collective agreement with the Ministry of Education, New Zealand Kindergartens Incorporated (NZKI) and the Zealand Federation of Free Kindergartens (NZFFK) in August.

"The breakdown has occurred because the employers are attacking the teachers' working conditions," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Colin Tarr.

"This threatens the teachers' ability to maintain the quality of education parents expect their children to receive at a kindergarten."

The employers are:

* Refusing to recognise the need for kindergarten teachers to have 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 a level that was agreed when kindergarten teachers gained pay parity with primary and secondary teachers.

"The attack on kindergarten teachers' working conditions by their employers is an attack on the learning conditions for the 45,000 children who attend kindergartens," says Colin Tarr.

"Teachers are angry because they know that the employers' demands will erode the quality of education that they're able to provide to the children they teach."

That's why they're attending a series of stopwork meetings throughout the country to discuss the break down in their negotiations and to vote on taking a day of action in response to the employer's attack on the quality of education provided by kindergartens.

Why kindergarten teachers need term breaks.

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 25 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. "The employers' claim 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 margin was agreed in 2002 when NZEI negotiated pay parity for kindergarten teachers with primary and secondary teachers.

"The problem is the margin has closed," 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.

ENDS


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