The country's largest education union is calling on the Government to step in to correct pay injustices in the early childhood sector this International Workers' Day.
To coincide with May Day, NZEI Te Riu Roa members and supporters are set to kick off an ECE Week of Action today. Throughout the week early childhood teachers will be holding events across the country to demand an immediate end to the pay imbalance of up to 31% between ECE teachers and their counterparts in kindergartens and schools.
The Week of Action comes ahead of Budget announcements later this month, where the union's members and supporters hope to see pay parity for the sector accelerated in line with promises made by the Minister of Education ahead of the last election.
Teachers and sector experts cite the sector's huge pay discrepancies as the key barrier to recruiting and retaining teachers in the nation's early childhood centres, and say the situation is only getting worse. NZEI Te Riu Roa ECE representative Virginia Oakly says the difficulty of employing and retaining qualified ECE teachers is having a detrimental effect on the care and education young children receive.
"An NZEI Te Riu Roa survey of early childhood educators in late March showed that more than 86% feel teacher shortages are having impacts on the children they teach, and more than 80% feel personally affected by the situation themselves - citing high stress, burnout, and even an inability to take entitled breaks during work hours," Oakly says.
"In addition, more than 75% of those we surveyed said they feel it is getting harder to maintain minimum child-to-teacher ratios. It's deeply concerning that teachers are unable to give the children in their centres the time and attention they deserve."
"We're on an increasing downward spiral of losing staff as conditions get worse for children and the remaining teachers. The longer the Government leaves it, the harder it will be to retain valued staff in the sector and improve quality."
"We desperately need to stabilise the sector, and to see more people wanting to work in it - but it's no wonder they aren't keen to when the pay and conditions are so poor and the work is so precarious."
One of this week's many events will be the delivery of a petition to the Prime Minister on Monday. The petition has been led in recent weeks by NZEI Te Riu Roa members on Auckland's North Shore, and calls for pay parity to be funded by Government through union collective agreements - a solution they suggest to avoid funding ending up in the pockets of centre owners and shareholders as has previously happened under the current funding model.
NZEI Te Riu Roa and Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand - representing a significant number of ECE employers - have also jointly called on the Government to address the teacher shortage and poor pay in Budget 2021.
The ECE Week of Action runs from 1-8 May.