Strikes and the secret ballot
When was the strike ballot held and when did strike action happen?
Electionz.com independently conducted the secret ballot between 16-25 October. Members voted to hold a week of rolling one-day strikes between 12-16 November.
- Auckland Region - Monday 12 November
- North Island (except Auckland and Wellington) - Tuesday 13 November
- Wider Christchurch area (including Ellesmere, Ashley, Mid-Canterbury, Malvern, Hurunui and Aronui Tomua Waitaha) - Wednesday 14 November
- South Island (except Christchurch) - Thursday 15 November
- Wellington Region - Friday 16 November
How did we make the decision to ballot on a week of one-day rolling strikes and not another option (e.g. 2-day strike or a work to rule)?
We consulted with members to make a decision about what industrial action to ballot members on. A ballot is a requirement under industrial law.
We asked all worksite representatives to feedback to us members’ preferred industrial action. And we also invited members to participate in online consultation through Loomio.
Lastly, the 400+ NZEI members at national conference, Te Reo Areare and National Executive all discussed the options. We considered the results of the consultation with members.
There was a majority preference for a week of rolling one-day strikes. There was also strong support for a 2-day strike. Other options got some support.
In the end the National Executive made the final decision to go with the option with majority support, that would make an impact on the Government, and attract media attention.
Whilst we know it may have been difficult for some members to get in behind an option that wasn’t their preferred option, we ask for unity as we move forward. It is together that we are strong.
Why couldn’t you just put all the options on the ballot?
We could not legally put more than one option on the ballot.
That is why we consulted with members first – to try to ensure we were taking the best and most supported option forward.
Why did we need to do a secret ballot?
The Employment Relations Act required us to conduct a secret ballot of members who would be involved in the strike. The ballot had to contain precise details about the date and time of the proposed strike.
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 during a strike, 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 during strike action?
Under the law the Secretary of Education decides on any pay deductions. In the event of strike action 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.
What will strike action mean for children and whānau?
Teachers and principals appreciate the inconvenience of strike action on some families. Members do not take the decision lightly. Prior to August, primary teachers had not taken industrial action in New Zealand since 1994 and the fact that we are now holding a second round of strike action shows the grave concerns we have for the future of quality public education. The government needs to take courageous steps now!
During the strike action, each school’s Board of Trustees will decide whether to keep the school open or close the school. BoTs will need to advise the school community as soon as the board decides whether or not to keep the school open.
What will strike action mean for teachers?
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 or not to close your school.
Prior to strike action, NZEI Te Riu Roa principal and teacher members will get information about venues and travel plans for the strike events.
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 would strikes mean for support staff (including caretakers and directly employed cleaners)?
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.
Can non-union teacher or principal members strike?
No. Please encourage potential members to join the union so they can be involved in decisions about whether to accept or reject the Ministry’s offers.
Claims and negotiations
Why are the negotiations taking so long? Why don’t NZEI Te Riu Roa just go back to the table?
We are committed to a negotiated outcome. At the moment we are waiting on the Government to provide more money so that the Ministry can make us a better offer. Members strongly voted to reject the latest offer made by the Ministry so we need them to improve the offer. We are ready to negotiate with the Ministry as soon as they have more money to make a better offer.
What is facilitation?
Facilitation will mean bargaining continues, but subject to the process determined by the Employment Relations Authority.
What does an application mean?
We have to apply and meet a certain criteria in order to be accepted for facilitation under the Act. Those criteria include that the bargaining has been protracted extensive efforts have failed to resolve the difficulties, or there is a proposed strike that would affect the public interest. We have to wait to see whether the ERA considers we have met this criteria.
Does the facilitator/ERA make a ruling?
No, they can make a recommendation. The parties must consider the recommendation, but are not compelled to accept it.
Why is there no member-only benefit included in the latest offer from the Ministry?
The Ministry has not yet agreed to offer a member-only benefit. It is a key claim that the NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiating team is continuing to push hard for as many members indicated this was important to them.
Why have we made claims that would lead to schools needing to employ more teachers (increasing CRT, reducing curriculum staffing ratios, SENCO release, professional leadership time) when there is a teacher shortage crisis?
We know that there are lots of people choosing to leave teaching or deciding not to train to be teachers because of the workload, stress and lack of support so we need to change the conditions to make teaching a more attractive and sustainable profession. If we do that, we will have more teachers available and will be able to achieve the claims. We know that we might need to phase in some of the things we claimed.
What happened to the CRT that was in the first offer?
The Ministry has reallocated the monetary cost of CRT from the previous offer into increasing the value of the latest pay offer. The NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiating team has continued to push the importance of addressing workload (through things such as increasing CRT) as part of the negotiations.
Why is the Ministry including changes to RT units in their latest offer?
The Ministry has indicated to us that it wishes to addresses some anomalies that have occurred for part time resource teachers and the units they receive. We are still waiting for details about this. At this stage changes are suggested as part of the latest offer.
How would a settlement apply to non-members?
The NZEI Te Riu Roa team is focused on getting the best deal possible for members. It is up to non-members to negotiate their own employment agreement.
When will Q1 and Q2 teachers get to move up a step?
The current offer is for Q1 and Q2 teachers to move up one step on 28 January 2021 (as long as they have been on their current step at least a year and have a satisfactory attestation).
What is happening with our claim for SENCOs?
The NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiating team is continuing to push the importance of introducing a SENCO role that has release time, remuneration and PLD available to support it.
The Government has announced that it intends to create new in-school Learning Support Co-ordinators as part of a wider draft Learning Support Action Plan. We are currently consulting members about this proposal.
Are we still fighting for more CRT?
This is something that the NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiating teams are continuing to push hard for across the negotiating table.
Does the Ministry offer address workload for teachers and principals?
No. The NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiating teams have emphasised throughout negotiations that workload must be addressed in this settlement. To date, the Ministry has not done this.
What happened to the first offer the Ministry made in June, 2018?
Members voted overwhelmingly to reject this offer in June. Our negotiating team reported this to the Ministry and restarted negotiations. The latest offer made by the Ministry completely replaces the first offer – e.g. nothing from the first offer carries over into the latest offer.
This latest offer has also been rejected by members.
Is there still a bigger pay rise being offered to beginning teachers?
The latest offer from the Ministry provides the same pay increase for all teachers. The larger increase for beginning teachers was only in the first offer from the Ministry. Members voted to reject that offer.
Will we get back pay?
This is something that the NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiating teams are continuing to push hard for across the negotiating table.
What is happening with the career framework development work?
The NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiating teams are continuing to push the need for work to be done to ensure that being a teacher or a principal is seen as an attractive and viable career option. The teams are pushing for this to include a focus on teachers with specialist skills in Māori, Pasifika and special education.
Campaign process and practical considerations
Can NZEI Te Riu Roa and PPTA join forces?
NZEI Te Riu Roa and PPTA are working as strongly as possible to support each other’s campaigns. We have very similar issues but separate collective agreements so some solutions are slightly different. We are working together on the Area School Teachers’ Collective Agreement.
How long will the campaign continue?
Until we get an outcome we are satisfied with and as long as members are committed to fighting to address the critical issues facing education on a daily basis!
Why have we decided on the current timeframes for voting and determining next steps?
We have developed the current timeframes for voting to make sure there is enough time for all members to discuss and consider the options they are voting on so they can make a well-informed vote. This needs to be balanced with maintaining campaign momentum and political pressure as well as practical factors such as the time necessary for setting up electronic ballots.
Is the process going too slowly?
We would like to have received better offers more quickly through negotiations. NZEI Te Riu Roa members on the negotiating teams have made themselves available every time the Ministry has indicated that it is able to meet with us.
Outside of negotiations, we work as quickly as possible to share information with over 30,000 members and to set up processes for discussion and decision making.
Do all primary teacher and principal members have to go on strike if we vote for it?
Obviously any decision about striking or what form the strike will take may not please everyone. The important thing, as we showed on August 15, is that we all collectively back the decision once it has been made, knowing that Exec has canvassed members’ views exhaustively beforehand.
Will we publish the percentages from the ballot?
We will let members know the strength of feeling behind the vote but we don’t share the specific percentages as this is tactically significant information that we don’t want in the public domain so it is confidential to National Executive.
Why are we using Loomio?
We have set up a Loomio site that participants apply to join so that it is a private place for members to have discussions about options. It allows for members from across the country to hear and discuss different ideas and perspectives to help inform collective decision making.
How can we get involved if we don’t want to be active on social media?
Members can have discussions in their schools and feed-back their views via email or our call centre. There are also many locally planned face to face activities. Information about this is distributed locally.
Do we know how many teachers are non-members?
Based on the information available to us we believe that nearly 90% of primary teachers are members and over 95% of principals. Our membership is growing every week!
Are we doing work to look at health and wellbeing for senior leaders as well as principals?
The current study being conducted by the Australian Catholic University applies to APs and DPs as well as principals. When we get the final report at the end of the survey period this year we will get data specific to APs and DPs. We are working on rolling out a similar study for primary teachers next year.
Will we have a hardship fund to support members who struggle financially when we go on strike?
At this stage local membership structures are monitoring member welfare in their area and identifying ways they can provide necessary support. At each phase of the campaign we analyse the situation and decide what we need to plan for at a national level.
How can we effectively demonstrate our workload?
Members are coming up with all sorts of creative ways of doing this-online diaries, blogs, vlogs, Facebook posts, tweets and we have heard of schools that are tracking work hours on their public notice boards! We have also been gathering stories to share with the media of things like the way classes need to be doubled up to cover teacher absences and how this affects our workload and children’s learning.
How do we find out about local branch and network activities?
Many branches have Facebook pages where they share information about their planning and events. The NZEI Member Support Centre (0800 693 443) can also put you in touch with relevant staff and member leaders to find out locally activities.
Can we do a TV ad campaign?
We have run one round of TV advertising already and are continuing to monitor the impact that it has on community awareness and support for the campaign. The ad can be seen at weneedteachers.co.nz. Future decisions about advertising will be made as the campaign progresses.
Can we put all resources on the website so they are easy to access?
We put as many resources as possible on the NZEI Te Riu Roa website. Occasionally there is information that is for members only. That is usually distributed via email. We encourage members to discuss this sort of information at schools to make sure everyone receives it. If members are missing emails, they can request them by calling our Member Support Centre (0800 693 443).
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.