Hipkins questioned about teacher strikes and budget

With the largest teacher strike ever planned to coincide with this week’s budget Minister of Eduction Chris Hipkins was interviewed on NewsHub Nation.

“…with $1.2 billion on the table and a $10,000 pay rise for most teachers on the table, we think that that’s as far as we can go in terms of putting more money in their pay packets in this pay round.”

Simon Shepherd: This week, a megastrike. The words no Education Minister wants to hear. For the first time in New Zealand history, all state and integrated schools will strike together this Wednesday. The action comes after talks failed to secure an offer acceptable to the 50,000 affected teachers and principals. I asked Chris Hipkins if he had a last minute deal to stop the strike going ahead.

Chris Hipkins: Look, we’re going to continue talking to the teachers, right up till the point of the strike action. If we can avoid strike action, of course we would like to do that. We’ve been very clear, though, that with $1.2 billion on the table and a $10,000 pay rise for most teachers on the table, we think that that’s as far as we can go in terms of putting more money in their pay packets in this pay round. But we also recognise that for many teachers this is about more than just pay, and they’re raising a whole lot of other issues that they also want us to address.

Well, let’s talk about pay. They want a package, between them all, of like $3.9 billion. It seems you guys are like a universe apart. Is there no more money to just get this done?

We’ve been really clear that for salaries there isn’t any more money on the table, and there’s not going to be, but there are many other issues that teachers are raising. We know that there are more kids in classrooms that have additional learning needs, for example. We do need to do more in that area. We know that there are big workload issues that teachers are grappling with, and we need to do more in that area. We’ll keep talking to them about how we can address those issues, but in terms of the pay round, we’ve been pretty clear that $1.2 billion is what there is.

The Crown had a surplus in the March figures of $2.5 billion, and the teachers are going to be looking at that and going, ‘Look, there’s some money.’

I don’t think teachers will put their hands up to take a pay cut, if the surplus were to go down. You can’t base your decisions about pay negotiations based on government surpluses because actually every other workforce in the public sector is looking at that money as well. We’ve got to look at what’s sustainable. We’ve also got a number of other big workforces— nurses will be back in bargaining next year. We’ve got doctors in bargaining. You’ll have police back in bargaining next year, and we do have to think about what are sustainable pay rises across the public service? Teachers are right at the top of those. You know, they are being offered some of the biggest pay rises across the broader public sector

Secondary principals now have a pay claim as well. Are you fearful that you’re going to see another strike on your hands from them?

Look, we’ll go into those negotiations in good faith. The secondary principal bargaining is just getting underway, and we need to let that take its course.

You talk about this pay round. What about next pay round? Is that one of the reasons that the government’s decided to loosen its debt cap — to create more money, to be able to borrow more money, to be able to make these kind of pay rounds work?

I’m not going to pre-empt the next pay round before we’ve even concluded this pay round. I’ve always been very clear with the teachers — as long as I have been doing this job for the Labour Party, and that was five years in opposition as well — that they need to think about their pay strategy over every pay cycle and not just a big action roughly every 15 years when there’s a Labour government.

This mega-strike that’s coming up on Wednesday, I mean, that’s hundreds of thousands of children, parents affected. Do you understand what kind of effect that this is going to have for families?

Well, look, I know that this will have a big impact for families. I don’t think that the strike action is justified. As I’ve said, the pay rise on the table now over the next two years is worth an average of $10,000 to the majority of teachers so that is a pretty sizeable pay increase. It’s $1.2 billion, and actually parents are also saying that they want the government to get serious about mental health, they want the government to properly fund district health boards, so that the hospitals that they go to are well-funded and well-resourced. They also want us to deal with the housing shortage and the housing crisis. They want us to lift children out of poverty. We need to be able to do all of those things.

But how long can you let this drag on for? One of these pay negotiations has been going on for more than 18 months.

Look, we continue to negotiate. We went to the Employment Relations Authority late last year. The Employment Relations Authority, in fact, said to the primary school teachers at the time that they thought the government’s offer was very competitive — ‘handsome and competitive’ was how they described it. We’re doing everything that we can.

And you’ve gone back there now? I mean, there’s new, urgent talks on the table, isn’t there?

That’s right. We are doing everything that we can to continue to sit around the table to try and resolve the issues that the teachers are raising. But obviously, any government — whether it’s our government or any other government — is always going to have a limit to the amount of money that they can put on the table in any given pay round.

Okay. Let’s talk about this week in parliament. Haven’t really seen anything like this before with allegations of bullying, harassment, sexual assault — how surprised were you at the findings of the Francis Report?

Look, I think parliament has come a long way over the last 20 or 30 years in terms of changing its culture, being more representative of all New Zealanders, but we’ve still got a long way to go nad I think the Francis Report clearly highlights that. We need to change the culture around this place. We need to create a much more people-friendly environment, and clearly there are some big areas for improvement.

You’ve been here — what? —almost 10 years, 10 and a half years, have you been involved, have you seen, have you experienced bullying and harassment of this nature?

Look, I wouldn’t say that I’ve been the victim of bullying. I have seen people treating other people inappropriately and unfairly. Now let’s just be clear about this — in a democratic system of government, like we have here in New Zealand, an adversarial approach is built into it. You know, it’s designed to be adversarial, and that is going to create conflict. There’s a different between legitimate conflict, legitimate scrutiny, legitimate accountability, and bullying. And certainly the staff, the interactions that some MPs have with staff, the interactions that some staff would have with each other — they’re not okay, and we need to be really clear in saying that. You can be adversarial, you can do your job in a democratic system without treating people as abysmally as some people around here have been treated.

It’s also been described as a very high-intensity workload. I mean, you’re a father, you’ve got to manage your family as well as this. I mean, how hard is it to be able to do the job?

Look, it’s a tough job. MPs are away from their homes a lot. I’m lucky in one sense, as a Wellington MP, I get to go home every night to my family. I think everybody who’s working who has a family struggles with this. I think MPs particularly, given the lengths of time they spend away from their families, do really struggle with that.
Okay, but what changes do you think should be made within parliament, both for staff and members, to make it more family-friendly?

Well, I think that the Francis Report, again, sets out some good recommendations around how we can improve the culture of this place.

What recommendations do you like?

Well, I think having a single point of contact or various points of contact for people who are feeling bullied or feeling harassed, so that they know where they can go to get extra help. We’ve been working for some time to make this place a bit more family-friendly. I think it humanises parliament a bit more, and I think we’ve made real advances in that in recent years, and there’s more that we can do there too.

So do you think we need a wider review, like the Francis Report, but for the wider public service? Do you think this kind of culture exists out there?

Look, I think any workplace is going to have challenges, if they have a culture that allows bullying. Now, without going through every different department or agency, I can’t say where that might exist, but my message to every chief executive in the public service, is my expectation of them is that they will ensure that their workplace is not one of those workplaces that has that type of culture.

Okay. It’s Budget Week, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson has been looking around for extra cash, and he’s taken $197 million dollars from the tertiary education policy — the ‘fees-free’ policy. Why not just give that to the teachers?

Well, when we set up the ‘fees-free’ policy, we deliberately budgeted conservatively because it’s very difficult when you’re introducing a new policy like that to understand the behavioural effects of that. You know, enrolments could have gone up significantly, they might not have. You’ve got to be conservative. You have to make sure that the money is there if you need it. We knew that we were probably going to get some money back from that. That money is going to go back into tertiary education, particularly into vocational education — where we know that our polytechs have been scaling back, where we know we’ve got critical skill shortages in areas like building and construction. so that money is still going into education, and it’s going into an area where we’ve also got a big pressing need.

With this tertiary policy— I mean, the Labour policy was to roll out free years in the second and third year by 2024. Has that gone?

No, that hasn’t gone. That continues to be the Labour Party’s policy. Of course, it’s a coalition government, so everything is—

So you can’t commit to that for the next election, is that what you’re saying?

Well, what I’m saying is we’ll go into the next election campaign with a very clear policy. Under this government where it’s a coalition government, the commitment that we made in this term was to introduce the first year free, which is what we have done. You know, beyond the next election, of course, that’s going to depend on the outcome of the election.

Okay. Finally, one last word to the teachers and the pupils and the parents who are going to be the subject of this strike this week, I mean, what would you say to them?

I would say that this strike isn’t necessary, that we are hearing the concerns of teachers. We are committed to addressing them. We have given teachers a very significant pay offer, the largest that they’ve had in over a decade. In fact, it’s worth more than all of the other pay offers that they’ve had over the last decade put together, and we’re also committed to working on the other issues that they’re raising.

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  1. At our local school two teachers are leaving at the end of the term. It’s a good school in a good area. The vacancies have attracted no applicants, and any that do apply will now have to give a full terms notice to their current school before moving to a new one. Which leaves a possible teacher gap at our school.

    A glance through the education gazette shows heaps of schools requiring teaching staff so competition is stiff. Hipkins can say $10K solves all the issues, but he may not be right.

    • Duker

       /  27th May 2019

      Is the principal offering a ‘permanent job’ like those who are leaving had , or will it be a short term contract ? ( there are fixed term ones as well for those on leave because of pregnancy)
      I hear a lot of existing teachers arent going to apply for a ‘contract job’ and newer teachers are being picky about those as well

      • Not sure, but from the sounds of it, if you’re not offering a permanent position then you’re not meeting the market.

        • Duker

           /  27th May 2019

          The root of the issue is the average age of teachers is middle 50s. Thus you are having more retire every year than can begin teaching.
          Dont know if it applies now, but a decade or so ago , something like a 1/3 of those who finish primary teacher training never worked at all in a school ( or didnt last more than 6 months).
          Its actually hard work for new teachers , being on your feet all day and having to engage with students – especially for some who might be the ‘shy retiring type’ – Im sure they come home exhausted. However they dont compare themselves with other jobs with ‘standard hours’ and far less holidays. They say they have to do extra work outside school hours as if thats an imposition. The teachers Ive known were ones who arrived just before students and left not long after. Partly because of either commuting distance or they preferred to work at home

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  27th May 2019

            I gave a retired teacher a good laugh when I repeated Corky’s claim that it took a whole EIGHT HOURS for a teacher relly (many of his rellies are teachers) who was a circuit head (???) to prepare the work for the new school year.

            I can’t remember now how long it took my mother, but do remember that she did the marking and preparation before school began so as to be free from 3pm and have the evenings free.

            • Strange then that teaching is such easy hours yet we can’t find any teachers.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  27th May 2019

              Indeed, 8 hours for a year’s preparation 😀

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  27th May 2019

              I needn’t say that Corky’s talking nonsense. Anyone who knows a teacher will know this.

            • Corky

               /  27th May 2019

              As usual, Kitty has it wrong, Arty. My relly was an infant syndicate head.
              I say ‘was’because she is just out of hospital after becoming run down and ill. She has handed her notice in on the advice of doctors, but feels duty bound to stay on until new head is found. That may be a while.

              Again, Kitty has it wrong. It didn’t take my relly a whole day to get prepared for a new year..it took a few of us helping her for the whole day to get things ready.

              Of course, Kitty’s mum, teaching in the 1920s, would have experienced only a fraction of the pressures heaped upoun modern day teachers.

              Especially given teachers are powerless to discipline children.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  27th May 2019

              My mother wasn’t even born in the 1920s. More idiocy from Corky, needless to say.

              You said 8 hours and that the relly was a circuit head; you don’t even remember your own lies.

              There is no way that anyone, even with help (especially from people like Corky) could do a year’s preparation in a day. Dream on. Ask a few real teachers, not an imaginary one. It’s obvious that Corky doesn’t know any.

              The term ‘infant’ for primary school pupils is not used now; I don’t know when it was last used. They are called juniors now.

              Teachers now can’t hit children, no, but discipline and violence are not synonymous. My mother taught in the era of strapping, but good teachers were able to keep order without resorting to beating the children. If you don’t think that there was pressure on teachers in the past, dream on; that really is ignorance.

              I find it disturbing that someone thinks that discipline means hitting. As I said, the really good teacher doesn’t resort to hitting and shouting at the pupils. This is a sign of failure and will fail. Voice projection is not the same as shouting.

              My mother once heard a new teacher’s class booing her and went down to see what was going on. When Mrs _________ walked in, the class was silent. She didn’t scream at them or hit them; she controlled them because she had the thing that great or even good teachers have; authority.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  28th May 2019

              As usual, Corky has forgotten what he said the first time; his ‘mindfulness’ course doesn’t seem to have been very effective when it comes to memory training.

            • Corky

               /  27th May 2019

              I may add she has used her own money to buy children shoes and school bags and food when mum and dad were on the piss. She has been in fights with feral parents and cops abuse regularly.

              I doubt Kitty’s mum had to fight feral gang mummas.

              And that’s another reason they can’t find teaches. Teachers are scared to teach at certain schools. I don’t blame them.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  27th May 2019

              You said circuit head; I remember it because I knew that this was nonsense, as was the absurdly short time that was spent on a year’s preparation; most teachers would think themselves lucky to spend 8 hours a week on this.

              My mother taught at Kiwi St school for a few years; this was Wanganui’s toughest school. She was then promoted to DP of another school that had its share of tough pupils.

              We didn’t use the word feral of human beings in our house, but I can assure you that there were gang families around and that my mother encountered these. No, she didn’t fight them, her method was to use reason, not abuse.

              She seldom had discipline problems or had to raise her voice. The really great teachers don’t.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  27th May 2019

              Your niece should have told her that WINZ is (according to you, not them) very generous about buying school supplies. I would guess that shoes and school bags would be classed as this.

              Kiwi St was notorious, even in the 70s. Don’t tell me where my mother taught and what the parents were like.

  2. Blazer

     /  27th May 2019

    and under the Rockstar economy years…teachers,doctors,nurses,etc…never said…boo.

  3. So what? All governments face problems. National had housing, GFC, Christchurch, Pike River etc…
    Labour have public servant wage negotiations, NZF, The Greens and Phil Tywford.

    It’s how you deal with your problems that counts. No point bitching about it.

    • Blazer

       /  27th May 2019

      tell that to the teachers,they don’t have my sympathy.

  4. Duker

     /  27th May 2019

    “The Crown had a surplus in the March figures of $2.5 billion, and the teachers are going to be looking at that and going, ‘Look, there’s some money.’”

    Thats typical of the media – they see the accrual surplus, its an accounting measure , the cash suplus doesnt exist like that in government accounts.
    Even when the accounting and cash numbers are presented together ( at budget time) they mix them up and dont understand the difference.
    Public thinks like their own budgeting , any money left over is ‘surplus’ , yet if they bought a new car ( with cash) accrual accounting wouldnt class that as ‘spending’, nor if they bought a new dishwasher .


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