Christchurch teachers unfazed by strike's legality

After the vote, most teachers were delighted with the result. Photo / Thinkstock
After the vote, most teachers were delighted with the result. Photo / Thinkstock

Christchurch teachers are not concerned about the legality of a planned strike in February, saying it is time to tell the Government "enough is enough".

Teachers and principals yesterday voted for the action on February 19 next year - the day after the Ministry of Education is due to reveal its controversial education reforms plans in the rebuilding city.

The action was decided at a crunch teachers' union meeting after rising anger and concern over a Government proposal to merge or close 39 schools in the city rebuilding from the devastating earthquakes.

More than 83 per cent voted for strike action, with 520 of 846 voters backing a strike on February 19.

Just 13 per cent voted no.

However employment law specialist Jane Latimer told Radio New Zealand there could be legal ramifications as a strike is only legal if there has been a breakdown in collective bargaining or because of health and safety reasons.

"If it is an illegal strike there are penalties, they could go to court, there would be a very good chance of getting an injunction - the employment court would grant an injunction," she said.

John Leadbetter, a teacher at Parkview School which has escaped any threat of change, was unfazed by the potential legal ramifications.

"This strike is technically unlawful, yes it is, but when you look the parents in the eye and you say 'We are doing it for your children', they will understand," he said.

He spoke passionately about the role teachers played in their communities, especially after the deadly February 22 quake.

"I did not know of one single teacher who ran out the gate to look after their families. We stayed, we did our jobs, we cared for our kids, and we've continued to care about them every single day since," he said, to resounding applause.

Mr Leadbetter urged his colleagues to vote for a strike in February, rather than next Wednesday which was the other ballot option, along with no strike action at all, to tell the Government "enough is enough".

"We are not guinea pigs. Schools are the centre of the community and everyone in this room are the guardians of those schools," he said.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) union president Ian Leckie said the Government proposals to close 13 schools and put 26 through some form of merger was based on "wrong or poor quality information".

Mr Leckie applauded the Christchurch teachers for making a stand against the unnecessary disruption and radical reform.

He said teachers had provided a "normality and stability while everything else was shaking" during and after the devastating earthquakes.

The vote showed they refused to be used as guinea pigs for a Government agenda which they would like to see rolled out across the country, he said.

Sandra Spekreijse, local union member, chaired the meeting and read out apologies from a host of politicians, including Hekia Parata who was "unavailable", which was met by risible groans.

Almost 900 teachers and principals filled the Christchurch Riding for the Disabled Indoor Arena and suffered temperatures soaring above 30 degrees to make themselves heard.

They waved placards which stated 'Listen to Christchurch - genuine democracy, genuine consultation' and were vocal in their support of the action.

A petition signed by 7,000 teachers from across New Zealand, was handed to Megan Woods, MP for Wigram, to pass on to Prime Minister John Key.

"Christchurch residents have been through enough in the last two years, they should not have the future of their schools dictated to them by the Beehive," Ms Woods said.

"If changes are to be made, the Government needs to take the community with them. Hekia Parata has botched the consultation process from day one, but it is not too late for her to listen to the community."

After the vote, most teachers were delighted with the result.

"It's pretty clear cut, isn't it," said Niki Penny, a teacher at Branston Intermediate, a school in Hornby earmarked for merger.

Strike action was not something teachers took lightly, she said, but added that the Government had left them with no option.

"The parents and local communities are right behind us on this and feelings are running high," Ms. Penny said.

"This is not about stuff you might traditionally strike for - it's about protecting the future of our kids."

- nzherald.co.nz and the New Zealand Herald

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