Education support staff picketed Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe's office on Friday last week to express their disappointment that they have yet to receive an offer of a pay rise.
This comes during a continuing process of bargaining by the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) over the support staff employment agreement, where staff, including teacher aides, are paid in a different way to other teachers.
Money for support staff has to be drawn from a separate fundfrom teachers. It is the operations grant, which is also accessed to pay for school resources for students and staff. Teachers are paid directly via the Ministry of Education.
That effectively means less money is available to pay support staff -- and in December, the government also froze the operations grant, meaning since then, significant numbers of support staff have lost work hours or even entire jobs due to the tighter budget.
NZEI presented a petition to the Government containing almost 50,000 signatures asking for this disparity to be recognised. An open letter signed by more than 500 school principals today says they want to pay more to their support staff including office staff, librarians and about 10,000 teacher aides, but can't afford it without cutting their hours.
The appeal to local MP Macindoe was the follow-up to this from support staff in Hamilton. Carol Webb, a teacher aide at Fairfield College, helped lead it.
"I had a small contingent of colleagues go along," she said, of the New Zealand Educational Institute's call at Mr Macindoe's office.
"It wasn't an idea of being a mass protest."
Ms Webb said she originally rang the MP's office and asked to make an appointment with him, but it couldn't be arranged so she proceeded to write a letter explaining what the campaign wanted Mr Macindoe to do, and decided to take it to his office, with her and one other staff member going to present the letter.
"One of my colleagues went in front of me, looked up the stairs and said, 'Yep, the lights are on, they're there,'" said Ms Webb.
"It was 4pm -- no reason why they shouldn't be -- so we went up the stairs together, and by the time I'd got to the top of the stairs, the lights were off, and the door was locked.
"So, I took the hint. I didn't knock, and obviously put the letter that I had underneath the door and left."
The negotiations have been Support staff concerned for job future
t received any additional support from the Government, which simply says it has no money to spare to enable stability of support staff's hours and roles.
"Today they are adamant that there are no resources -- they won't put any more money into it," said Ms Webb.
"We know that anything that we get in negotiations will be reflected in job losses and hours lost, so we're stuck between a rock and a hard place, basically."
She said NZEI is also putting forward a case on pay equity after the care workers' win last year, but have yet to achieve progress in that area.
"We're not employed by anybody else, so why are we going to have to fight for pay equity," she asked.
Education Minister Nikki Kaye told the NZ Herald that pay increases had been offered in past years, and that the operational grant increased by 16 per cent between 2010 and 2016, when inflation was only 11.1 per cent and school rolls increased by 3.1 per cent.
"This means that boards of trustees have been resourced to be able to support pay increases. Pay increases are wider than just operational grants. For example, we have the Funding Review currently taking place which is looking at potential changes to the way schools are funded. The Ministry of Education and NZEI are currently in negotiation through collective bargaining around pay increases. Over recent years this process has led to increases of up to 1.5 per cent each year," she said.
However, NZEI said that it leaves schools and principals in a predicament for this year, which is especially distressing for support staff who have seen teachers and principals receive a 2 per cent increase to their pay last month.