Early childhood education teachers in Hawke's Bay say the region is staring down the barrel of a "chronic shortage" of qualified staff.
They are part of a nationwide campaign launched by the NZEI teachers union in Napier this week, pleading for a cash injection from the Government to bridge the pay gap between childcare centres, kindergarten, primary and secondary schools.
Kristi Lampitt, a teacher at Colenso Early Childhood Centre, said there was a 55 per cent decrease of people studying early childhood across New Zealand.
"We are staring down the barrel of a chronic shortage of qualified ECE teachers.
"The wages are just not enough, so it does not look as attractive as some other careers out there.
"I have a degree in teaching, same degree as my colleagues in primary and secondary schools, but the pay gap is between 11 per cent to 49 per cent.
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"Same qualification, same registration and same teachers council, but different pay."
Colenso ECC is a not-for-profit early childhood centre that works in partnership with the Hawke's Bay School for Teenage Parents.
Lampitt said the job was "incredibly rewarding but challenging" with conditions in Hawke's Bay dire.
"We want the Government to value our sector as a whole, not just address the pay.
"We are stretched. For me there has been an increase in stress in my role, as there has been an increase in high needs children because of social issues that we need to support."
She said getting qualified relievers to help out with workload was "incredibly hard".
"We decided to take a stand at the centre. We are in a position to be caring and educating children and we are fortunate to do that, but the Government needs to value our sector.
"The Government needs to step up and do what they promised. There needs to be an increase in funding in early childhood and they need to look at the teacher-child ratios.
"We need to put quality in early childhood, and the sector needs to be funded appropriately so we can provide the best possible care for our most vulnerable, precious children."
Ministry of Education deputy secretary of early learning and student achievement Ellen MacGregor said all early childhood education teachers were employed independently of the Government.
"While we license and fund early learning services, we are not directly responsible for setting teachers' terms and conditions of employment, except for kindergarten teachers.
"Having said that, the Government seeks to influence the minimum pay received by qualified teachers in early learning.
"Teacher-led centre-based services can receive higher funding if they attest that all teachers employed within their service are being paid at, or above, certain rates."
The ministry had developed a draft strategic plan for early learning to address the teacher to child ratio, she said.
"The draft plan proposes to increase the ratios of teachers to children to 1:4 for under 2-year-olds and 1:5 for 2-year-olds.
"These ratios reflect both research evidence and practices in similar OECD countries. Included in the proposal is allowing time for services to recruit additional qualified teaching staff to reflect any changes to ratios."