School Support Staff Fight Back and Win
School support staff have won an improved collective agreement settlement through their union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, after the members rejected an earlier, inferior offer from the Government.
The agreement covers more than 10,000 NZEI members working in primary and secondary schools and kura kaupapa Maori thoughout New Zealand. They work as teacher aides, therapists, office managers, kaiarahi i te reo and in more than 80 other jobs.
The settlement will go to NZEI members early next year for a ratification vote. The NZEI negotiating team is recommending that the members vote yes.
The settlement is for a one-year agreement that includes four main provisions:
- A 3% pay increase effective from January 3, 2007
- Spreading pay across the whole year, so support staff are paid during term breaks
- Enhanced annual leave entitlements
- A new pay scale for therapists employed by schools
The earlier settlement was rejected largely because the Government would not agree to the key annual leave claim.
“Schools have been providing an extra week’s leave to reward loyal support staff since their first collective agreement was negotiated in 1991,” says Mereana Epi Mana, Team Leader of the NZEI support staff negotiating team and a librarian at Ellerslie School in Auckland.
“The new settlement retains the extra week of leave. While it will be brought in over a number of years, we are very pleased to have made progress. This is a key incentive to retain quality staff. We already have too many quality people leaving for the private sector, where pay, job security and leave provisions are better. We can’t afford to lose any more,” says Mereana Epi Mana.
“We would not have won these provisions if members had not made their voices heard. Over 85% of members rejected the original offer, and the Government listened.”
While the enhanced provisions in the collective agreement are a step in the right direction, the negotiating team says it’s only a drop in the bucket.
The Review of Schools’ Operational Funding, released by the Minister of Education, Steve Maharey, yesterday, clearly pointed to support staff as a crisis area for school funding, and recommended a comprehensive workstream for next year.
“Until this workstream starts, the situation for both schools and support staff will not improve substantially,” says Mereana Epi Mana. “We want to get back to bargaining later next year and be able to negotiate decent pay and conditions for support staff. That can only happen when the underlying problems of the funding system have been addressed.”