Education ministry calls for facilitation: ‘there are ways ... we can address workload’

Mr Hipkins insists the current offer to teachers is final and at the top end of pay increases in the public sector. - Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

There are ways to address teacher workloads that do not require more money and teachers' claims of a crisis cannot simply be solved with more people, the head of the Education Ministry says.

Primary and secondary teachers will walk off the job for one day on 29 May in what will be the largest ever industrial action taken by teachers, involving almost 50,000 union members.

The Ministry of Education is adamant that there is no more money in the budget for teachers, and says negotiations must revolve around the existing offer. Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said he believes the teachers' mega strike is not justified and will not achieve any breakthrough in pay talks.

Education secretary Iona Holsted, the head of the ministry, told Morning Report she had written to both unions asking them to come back to facilitated bargaining, but that the $1.2 billion offer to teachers across the sector was the best the government could do.

"The question for me is what are we going to do ... and what can we do about things that don't require money immediately," she said.

"There is a sense that parts of the workforce that the unions are telling us are in crisis and I don't quite understand the use of the word at the moment because we have more people coming into teaching and we've got more staying in teaching.

"We also know the government has committed another $500 million to learning support."

She said they needed to understand what was driving the claim that there was a crisis.

"We have already engaged with the unions on identifying things that, for example, the ministry does or the government requires that takes up their time and that compliance workload process is in train. We've got things we are working on immediately to stop anything they don't need to do.

"The government stopped National Standards because teachers said that was adding to stress and workload. They are reviewing the NCEA in order to reduce workload for secondary school teachers.

"So, I do think there are ways ... we can address workload, which is not just about more money."

She said different regions and schools were facing different problems and the ministry was committed to finding a solution that worked for everyone.

The latest round of negotiations by the primary teachers union ended last week with the ministry offering its original package of pay rises, totalling $698 million.

President of teachers union NZEI, Lynda Stuart, told Morning Report the package had been refused three times because it had not addressed the loss of pay parity with secondary level teachers and unsustainable workloads.

"What we need to see is a return to pay parity, so that absolutely does cost more money. We also need to see the issue about time set in concrete."

Meanwhile the Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA), the union for secondary teachers, said its members had also voted for five weeks of industrial action after the strike, which was still being planned.

PPTA president Jack Boyle told Morning Report the package offered failed to address conditions of workloads and there was no point recruiting and training new teachers only to lose them because of workloads and class sizes.

He said the union stood by principles of pay parity with primary teachers.

"You can't guarantee that those teachers who come in, they're trained, then they are lost to the system within five years. The reason for it is largely the conditions of work.

He said there was a possibility the impasse could be overcome if iron-clad guarantees to reduce unnecessary workloads were given by the government, "if we had some guarantees around phasing so that pay relativity for the median wage could be reached over the period of time," he said.

"If we had some guarantees around the education work programme, that will reduce unnecessary workloads and better support teachers, then obviously we will be working towards resolving this."

Earlier, Mr Hipkins insisted the current offer to teachers was final and at the top end of pay increases in the public sector, with teachers getting $10,000 pay rises.

He acknowledged the crisis facing the education sector, but said the government needed to get the balance right and address other issues in health and housing.

He said issues of conditions such as class sizes couldn't be solved overnight as it involved recruiting more teachers and reversing years of neglect under National.

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