Understanding strikes

Common questions and answers

Looking for FAQs for the Learning Support strike ballot? Click here.


Why are we striking?

Both primary 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, the learning support they need and teachers are recognised as the professionals they are. You can read more about what we're asking for here.

Both primary teachers and principals feel the Ministry's June offers did not address workload issues, extra learning support or ways to stem the growing crisis in recruiting and retaining teachers.

Both primary teachers and principals voted overwhelmingly in June to reject the Ministry's offers and to hold three-hour strikes on 15 August. The feeling was so strong that the National Executive then balloted to replace the 3-hour strikes with full-day strikes. Both groups of members have now voted to undertake the full-day strikes on 15 August.


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 or vote in any Board decisions about school closures or staffing during strikes 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 our school is legally closed on 15 August for the strikes, do we have to make up the time at the end of the year?

No. Under Section 65A of the Education Act 1989 when a school is closed for instruction because of strike action, the school is deemed to be open in terms of counting days.


Will I be paid for the strike?

Under the law the Secretary of Education decides on any pay deductions.  The strike is for 12 hours. NZEI will seek to limit any deductions and will take legal action if necessary to ensure any deductions are fair and transparent.


Do principals have to complete a form to advise Novopay of who is a union member on strike?

No - it is the Board's role as employer to complete the form for non-striking staff.


Can a board pay members who "choose" not to strike out of their operations grant?

Agreeing to do this prior to the strike would be tantamount to coercion not to strike and is unlawful.

If Boards, after the strike, chose to make an ex-gratia payment to staff suffering hardship that is their choice but they would have to meet normal criteria for use of operational funding.

Some schools are staying open with union members choosing not to strike. They are of the belief they will be paid.

NZEI will be notifying the Ministry of Education that all members covered by the Primary Teachers Collective Agreement and the Primary Principals' Collective Agreement will be on strike.


Will a part-time teacher who usually does not work on a Wednesday get docked?


Will a part time teacher who normally works on Wednesdays get docked a percentage for that day?



What happens now?

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

Wednesday 15 August is strike day - there will be a Day of Action with rallies and events nationwide. Details of all the events are here.


What does this mean for children and whānau?

Teachers and principals appreciate the inconvenience of strike action on some families. Members 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.  The ballot was run in the first week of term so that schools have as much notice as possible. BoTs will need to advise the school community as soon as the board decides whether or not to keep the school open.


What does this mean for teachers?

The strikes on 15 August will be taken by both teachers and principals. Unlike a paid union meeting, during a strike there is no legal requirement to have sufficient union members at school to maintain school operations. 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.

NZEI Te Riu Roa principal and teacher members will get information shortly about venues and travel plans for the strike events on 15 August.


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 in the secret ballot. Relievers will, 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 (including caretakers and directly employed cleaners)?

More information for support staff here.

This is an historic decision for teachers and principals to make.

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

Strikes by teachers and principals do not affect support staff as you are not part of their collective agreements, 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?

Talk to your support staff members to reassure them that any support staff who normally work on 15 August will still be paid.

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


The situation with regard to who will be paid during the strike:

Will I be paid? If your school is closed If your school is open
Support staff (including caretakers and directly employed cleaners) Yes, you are entitled to be paid Yes, you are entitled to be paid
Non-member teacher Yes Yes
Striking teacher No No


Will I get paid if I choose not to strike and I go to work?

If you are an NZEI Te Riu Roa member we will have included you in the strike notice sent to the Secretary for Education.  As an overwhelming majority of members voted for this collective action we will issue strike notices for all members to be on strike.  Although this may not be the preferred option for some individual members, our strength is in acting together.  The Secretary for Education has asked boards to report which teachers did or did not strike to determine who she will pay.


What will my pay deduction be?

The Secretary for Education has indicated that she intends to deduct 1/365th of the gross salary of each full time teacher or principal for a full day strike.  Part time teachers will have their gross salary divided by365 and then by 8 to calculate a nominal hourly rate.  Schools will be asked to tell Education Payroll how many hours a part-time teacher would normally have worked during the duration of the strike.


Can non-union teacher or principal 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.

Can student teachers strike?

No. Because students are not yet covered by the Primary Teachers Collective Agreement, they cannot strike. However, student-teachers support for your colleagues on 15 August is strongly encouraged - both if they're training towards a qualification in Early Childhood or Primary - the more the merrier.

Student teachers should not do anything to undermine the strike. This includes not doing the work of a striking teacher - for example, if a student teacher is asked to relieve, supervise a group or class or help with holiday programs, they should decline and say something like "I'd like to take some advice on that and get back to you", then call 0800 NZEI HELP.

If you are a primary student on practicum at the moment, and the school where you are doing your practicum is closed for instruction, you should attend the rallies and marches with your colleagues.

If the school remains open, you should take advice from your Academic Institution. If your associate teacher is a union member, they will be on strike. If your school remains open and your associate teacher is a non-union member and therefore not on strike, you should attend as normal. You should not do anything that you wouldn't have ordinarily done that day - this includes stepping into the role of teacher, supervising a group or class or helping with holiday programs.


Will getting involved on August 15 affect student teachers employability?

No. You don't need to worry - attending rallies and marches will not affect your future employability. Approximately 90 per cent of teachers and principals are part of the union, and we'll all be on strike together.


If a teacher / principal is a non-member of NZEI, will they be required to attend school during the strike if the BOT closes the school?

They should follow the instruction of their Board and may be required to attend school.


Do NZEI members have to go on strike? 

The success of any strike depends on the conviction and commitment of members.  It is the result of a democratic decision taken by secret ballot, and so if the majority support the strikes it binds all members of the collective agreement.  An overwhelming majority of teacher and principal members rejected the Ministry's offer in June, and nothing new has been put on the table by the Ministry.

You can see from the nurses' strike the power of a masssive turnout of NZNO members to support their events. Even though not all nurses would have voted in favour of the tactic of striking,  most joined the strike to express their collective concern and solidarity about the issues all nurses are facing.


If NZEI teacher or principal members elect not to strike and work during the strikes, will they  get paid?

No.  All primary teacher and principal members are deemed to be on strike and will not be paid.


If the school is not closed by the BOT, who will be expected to supervise the students?

The Board has the responsibility to make this decision. Both principal and primary teacher members have the right to strike.  Other union members should not do the job of striking teachers.


What if I'm a part time worker?  Do I get all or part of my day's pay docked?

Under the law the Secretary of Education decides on the deduction of pay.  The strike is for 12 hours. NZEI will seek to limit any deductions and will take legal action if necessary to ensure any deductions are fair. Your pay should only be docked for the period you are on strike.


I am booked to be a reliever on 15 August. Do I get paid?

If you are covered by the collective agreement you should join the strike and you will not be paid.


I'm a support staff member and my school or the Ministry have offered PLD on August 15th while my school is closed for instruction. Is it okay to do this?

NZEI encourages all members to support the teacher strike on August 15, for example by attending lunch time rallies. We are also supportive of providing PLD to teacher aides and other support staff on that day as it does not undermine the strike and is a great opportunity for support staff members.


I work part time with floating hours and sometimes work on a Wednesday.

If you are a member covered by the collective agreement, you should join the strike on Wednesday 15 August and not be paid for that day.


How many people voted for strike action?

The votes in June by both principals and teachers were overwhelmingly and consistently in favour of rejecting the Ministry's offer and in favour of three-hour stoppages right across the country.  National Executive would not have decided to ballot for full-day strikes on 15 August if it 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 may 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).


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.


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 (when we took action 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.