Food parcels and petrol vouchers are the reality for many teacher aides in the face of low wages and insecure employment, says one teacher aide.
Ally Kemplen, an Auckland teacher aide on the teachers’ union NZEI pay equity negotiation team, told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning that although support staff were widely regarded as important, their pay and employment contracts did not reflect this.
“We just need something to change now,” said Ms Kemplen.
Teacher aides are also only employed for 40 weeks of the year, sometimes less, meaning they had to find other jobs over the school holidays, she said.
Ms Kemplen said this meant she was helping to organise food parcels and petrol vouchers of other teacher aides.
She said the way teacher aides were paid out of schools’ operating costs instead of centrally from the Government meant schools had to make choices between funding staff and other costs related to running schools, like power or maintenance work.
She said the Government should centralise funding for teacher aides, as it does for teachers, and pay the living wage.
Ms Kemplen said in a statement earlier this week 90 per cent of teacher aides earned less than the living wage of $21.15, while 60 per cent are on fixed-term contracts.
This echoes the demands of the teachers’ union, which started a week of action yesterday.
The action follows over three months of negotiations between the teachers' union NZEI and the Ministry of Education over support staff’s collective pay agreement. Pay equity negotiations for teacher aides have also been ongoing for the past three years.
Riki Teteina, the principal of Newton Central School in Auckland told Breakfast support staff were the “glue that holds our schools together”.
He said their work looking after students with high social, mental and physical needs was vital, but the job insecurity and low pay they faced meant they were “absolutely not” valued enough.
Funding is also often attached to particular students, meaning there is no guarantee of ongoing full-time employment, he said.
“We need the Government to fund this, not our communities,” Mr Teteina said.
He asked the Government to “stop dragging [its] heels” and centralise funding so principals can provide better job security.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning action over teacher aides’ collective agreement and pay equity negotiations are underway.
“It needs to be resolved,” she said.
“The speed at which we’ll be able to do that will be somewhat dependent on the breadth of the issues that are brought up.”
Ms Ardern said teacher aides were vital in schools but were one of the “poorest paid” in the education sector.
She said the Government were aware of the issue of schools having to choose between funding support staff and schools’ operating costs.
Earlier this week, an NZEI spokesperson told 1 NEWS thousands of staff — including teacher aides, admin staff, librarians, Māori language assistants and technicians — in primary and secondary schools nationwide would take part in this week’s action.
He said they would talk to people, engage with the media and hand out fliers to raise awareness. He said they would not walk off the job.
TVNZ1’s Breakfast said it would be seeking comment from Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
NZEI represents 18,000 teacher aides.
A major education announcement is expected today.