Understanding strikes

Common questions and answers


Why haven't I received a ballot to vote on the full day strike from NZEI?

That's because your voting information will be sent from iro@electionz.com, an independent elections company.


Why haven't I received a ballot from electionz.com?

Please check your spam filter. If you still have problems, please contact the Electionz.com helpline 0800 666 029 or email them at iro@electionz.com.


Why haven't I received a ballot but my colleagues have?

Please email membership@nzei.org.nz about this. Possible reasons are: you are not a current member, we don't have your correct email address, we don't have any contact details at all, or you may be recorded as being on a different collective agreement. Once this is resolved you will get a ballot sent by Electionz.


I'm no longer a teacher/principal. Why did I get sent a ballot?

Please email membership@nzei.org.nz to let us know and we will address this.


I'm not a member, how late can I join in order to vote?

Please join here by close of business, Monday 30 July at the latest to ensure membership is processed.


Why are we now being balloted for a strike between 7am and 7pm?

Many members indicated that they would prefer to take a full day strike, rather than the three hour stoppage originally proposed. This means that we are legally required to hold another ballot of all members covered by the relevant collective agreements.

We are also required to define the time of the strike in very specific time terms. We picked 7am-7pm as it is a clear and easy to remember timeframe, and to ensure that it recognises teachers and principals work in contact and non-contact time. We know that some people do work outside of these hours. There is no suggestion that on the strike day anyone should feel obliged to work outside of these hours.


Why are we striking?

Primary teachers and principals made their voices heard in June by attending paid union meetings, where they voted overwhelmingly to reject the Ministry's offer and to hold a three-hour strike on 15 August. In fact, the feeling at the meetings was so strong that there were increasing calls to turn the 3-hour strike into a full-day strike on August 15. Further feedback to National Executive resulted in a decision on July 20 to ballot for a full-day strike to replace the three hour stoppage.

Members felt the offer did not address workload issues, extra learning support or ways to stem the growing crisis in recruiting and retaining teachers.

Teachers and principals are determined to send a strong message to the Government and demand change so our students can have a teacher in every classroom and the learning support they need. You can read more about what we're asking for here.


What is a strike?

Under the Employment Relations Act, to strike means when a group of employees stop work or reduce their normal rate or output of work.


Is a strike lawful?

Yes, strikes are legal under the Employment Relations Act. (see the definition) 


Do schools have to close if teachers and principals are on strike?

It is a Board's decision whether or not to close a school. Partial closure is not an option under the law.

Principals and staff board reps should not be involved in any Board decisions about staffing during a strike or school closure as this puts them into a situation of a conflict of interest. Boards should be advised to seek advice from STA and the Ministry if they require more guidance.


If a school were legally closed during a strike, would we have to make up the time at the end of the year?

No, not if the school is closed. Under Section 65A of the Education Act 1989 when a school is closed for instruction for any half day because of strike action, the school is deemed to be open in terms of counting days.


Would I be paid if I went on strike?

Employers can decide whether to deduct pay or not. The Ministry of Education would determine how much pay is to be deducted. If you want to find out how a 3-hour strike might affect you personally that information is here.


What happens now?

We have strong support from our communities and we continue to need the support of parents and whanau!

- Wednesday July 25-Tuesday July 31st - There is a secret online ballot on whether to replace the 3 hour strike with a full-day strike on August 15.

-  Friday 3 August - Nationwide day of community engagement. Diary it now! Here are some resources to help you create a plan.

-  Wednesday 15 August - Nationwide strike action (either for 3 hours or a full-day depending on the results of the secret online ballot).


What does this mean for children and whānau?

We appreciate the inconvenience of strike action on some families, and our member teachers do not take the decision lightly. Primary teachers have not taken industrial action in New Zealand since 1994 and the fact that we are taking such a step now shows the grave concerns we have for the future of quality public education. The government needs to take courageous steps now!

Each school's board of trustees will decide whether to keep the school open or close the school. Principals will have as much notice as possible if a full strike goes ahead and will advise the school community as soon as the board decides whether to keep the school open.


What does this mean for teachers?

The industrial action on August 15 will be taken jointly by teachers and principals. Unlike a paid union meeting, during a strike there is no legal requirement to keep the school open with a skeleton staff. All NZEI Te Riu Roa teacher and principal members have a right to take strike action and it is the Board of Trustees' decision whether to close your school.

If you want to find out how a strike might affect you personally that information is here.

NZEI Te Riu Roa principal and teacher members will get an email early in term three to advise about a further strike ballot, as well as information about venues and travel plans for the strike events on August 15.


What is the situation for relievers?

Any reliever members of NZEI Te Riu Roa have the right to join a strike and stop work. They are covered by the PTCA and are bound by the majority vote taken at the PUMs. Relievers would, therefore, also be on strike and should not be employed to perform the work of striking teachers. Cover for striking teachers must only be for reasons of health and safety.


What does this mean for support staff?

This is an historic decision for teachers and principals to make. If you're a support staff member, please show your support by getting involved in your school's community action day on Friday 3 August. You can find more resources to help you talk to parents, family and friends here https://campaigns.nzei.org.nz/time/community-action-planning-kit/ and a handy flyer here https://campaigns.nzei.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/A4-community-flyer.pdf

For support staff it is important to know that employers should pay support staff if you normally work on August 15, even if your school is closed.

A strike by teachers and principals does not affect support staff as you are not part of their collective agreement, so you should be paid even if the school is closed. The Board of Trustees decides whether the school will remain open or not.

If it is not, and you are required to work, you should also be paid. However, you should not do the work of a striking teacher member.


What does this mean for principals?

Please talk with your staff, parents and whānau about your school's plan to engage with your school community on Friday 3 August. Talk to your support staff members to reassure them that any support staff who normally work on August 15 will still be paid.

Also, please talk to your Board about their plan for your school and students on August 15, and advise them to seek guidance from NZSTA and the Ministry of Education if they need it.


Can non-union members strike?

No. Please encourage potential members to join the union and make their own decision about whether to accept or reject the Ministry's offer.


How many people voted for a strike on August 15th at the June paid union meetings?

The votes by both principals and teachers were overwhelmingly and consistently in favour of rejecting the Ministry's offer and in favour of a three hour stoppage right across the country. National Executive would not be balloting for a full day strike if we did not have a compelling mandate for taking strong industrial action.


Why doesn't NZEI Te Riu Roa release the percentages?

NZEI Te Riu Roa does not release the details of strike ballots as a matter of practice. Any collective decision made by a majority of members is binding on all members. As with the nurses' union, we are likely to have to do further ballots as we go through this campaign. Making this information public now would give the Ministry a strategic advantage and weaken our collective strength (for example, if they showed there was any decline in numbers attending meetings over time).


Why is the vote on a full day strike rather than other options?

Although members suggested a range of options, by far the most common call from members -- particularly during the second week of Paid Union Meetings in June and through worksite reps and online means during July -- was for a full day strike. Most members, particularly in rural schools and special schools, did not favour a morning only strike, for example, because of logistical and health and safety reasons such as bus and taxi transport.

Won't it mean our school communities will have insufficient time to plan for August 15?

We have been transparent with members and the public that a full day strike is under consideration. The ballot results will be available very shortly after the vote closes and made public immediately so that schools get as much prior notice as possible.

We're not just worried about pay. Why is the media focused on that?

All NZEI Te Riu Roa communications to media make it clear that getting more time to teach and lead and getting more resources to support children with additional learning needs is key to addressing the crisis we face. However, in the context of the nurses' dispute and other public service union strikes, the media has a fascination with numbers and percentages that is hard to shift.

You can help by explaining to parents, friends and family, that getting more teachers so children can get more one to one support, and more resourcing and staffing to support children with additional learning needs are critical to our campaign. Our community flyer to help you out is here: https://campaigns.nzei.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/A4-community-flyer.pdf


Did National Exec underestimate the depth of feeling amongst members by only suggesting a half-day strike?

Members haven't been on strike since 1994, so the first ballot was inevitably going to be testing the waters. There was overwhelming support for a three-hour strike. So many members called for stronger action that we are now moving to holding a ballot for a full-day strike.

Members can continue to let us know what they think about the next steps through worksite reps and online group discussions using Loomio.


Why can't I get into the member-only Loomio conversation?

When you ask to join Loomio, you need to be approved by an NZEI Te Riu Roa staffer to ensure that the Loomio conversation is only open to NZEI Te Riu Roa members.  You should get an email approving your participation shortly afterwards. We apologise for any delays this may cause, particularly out of normal work hours, but it is important that NZEI Te Riu Roa members can have this online conversation with each other.


How come this strike is happening under a Labour Government, and not during the nine years of National? Is this government an easier target?

The crisis we are facing - created by the teacher shortage and years of under-investment in education under the previous government - needs addressing now, or our kids and their learning will suffer further.

We know the Labour-led Government has inherited nearly a decade of under-investment in education by the former National Government, but the crisis in education is too important and urgent to ignore or put off. The Government has acknowledged there is a significant problem with teacher shortages and under-investment in education, and we are appealing to it now for immediate action.  If these issues are not addressed immediately, we will be facing a far greater crisis in teacher supply and workload when we next negotiate in, probably, two years' time. We know there is a strong public mandate for more investment in education, and we are encouraging the Government to take a courageous approach to fixing the problems before more children's learning is put at risk.


Do you think we'll lose parent and community support by striking?

We're really mindful of the pressures any industrial action puts on families to arrange childcare. However, this is the first time we've voted for strike action since 1994 (for pay parity), and our communities understand why we're doing it - for their kids. We're really worried about the lack of extra learning support available to children who need it, and the teacher recruitment and retention crisis that could see class sizes blow out very soon. It's already extremely hard and sometimes impossible to find relievers when teachers are sick. We're already seeing classes combined or split up and spread around the school. Something has to change, and soon.




What the legislation says about strikes

The Employment Relations Act provides the following definition of a strike.

Meaning of strike

(1) In this Act, strike means an act that-

(a) is the act of a number of employees who are or have been in the employment of the same employer or of different employers-

(i) in discontinuing that employment, whether wholly or partially, or in reducing the normal performance of it; or

(ii) in refusing or failing after any such discontinuance to resume or return to their employment; or

(iii) in breaking their employment agreements; or

(iv) in refusing or failing to accept engagement for work in which they are usually employed; or

(v) in reducing their normal output or their normal rate of work; and

(b) is due to a combination, agreement, common understanding, or concerted action, whether express or, as the case requires, implied, made or entered into by the employees.