Early childhood education teachers aren’t getting the full benefit of a big cash injection from the Government, according to their union.
The $151 million earmarked in this year’s Budget was supposed to go towards pay increases, but the NZEI said a loophole means some of the cash is getting spent elsewhere.
On May 21, Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said the funding was earmarked to improve teachers' salaries to a minimum of $49,862 from July 1.
If services were already paying all teachers above that, they were then “permitted to use the additional funding in other ways, should they choose – for example, on deferred maintenance or resources for children”.
One week later, Mr Hipkins walked back on the initial guidance and said: “The Government’s intention…is that the funding is used more broadly to improve pay for qualified and certified teachers.”
The wording of the new statement has meant while the money has an "intended" use, it can technically be used for other areas of the business.
The Early Childhood Council told 1 NEWS ECE centres should be able to spend the cash how they like.
“Those services who are struggling to keep their doors open – if they can use a little bit of surplus from that funding increase to offset a bit of maintenance or extra resources for the children, then why not do that?”
But one teacher who spoke to 1 NEWS on the condition of anonymity said their employer's choice to leave them on the lowest pay level was a slap in the face.
“To not forward that money onto teachers is absolutely appalling, ECE teachers work so hard.
"We’re looking after the youngest people in our society and they’re not showing the respect I think we really deserve.”
They said their employer wasn’t transparent about the Government’s funding and only told them they wouldn’t be getting a pay increase after being approached.
“I was told I wasn’t legally entitled to the pay rise. I’ve just been told that it’ll be spent on whatever the organisation thinks it needs to be spent on.”
Another teacher who provided 1 NEWS with a statement works for one of the country’s biggest providers of preschools and kindergartens.
They also said it wasn’t until they approached management that they found out there were no pay rises.
“[They] have chosen not to inform teachers about what they plan on doing with the funding and disregard.. the purpose of the funding.”
The NZEI are worried some centres may pocket the money.
“Share prices have dived in a number of cases and so of course they’re going to use it [the funding] to bolster their balance sheets,” union national secretary Paul Goulter said.
Mr Hipkins said the Government has been clear what the money is intended to be spent on.
“We want to see that money we’ve put in to improving those salaries, going in to improve salaries.”
He said if some centres chose not to pass the money onto teachers, it could affect further funding decisions.
“If we don’t see that it’s going to be harder to justify putting more money in in the future to continue to increase those staff salaries.”
As ECE centres are privately owned, the Government is unable to step in and directly pay teachers an increased wage.
Staff 1 NEWS have spoken to said there needs to be clearer legal parameters added to the funding to ensure it gets used the right ways.
“This money is for teachers' pay. Not for anything else.”