I work in communications. This means I tell my clients about key messages, and help make sure they're understood. Ed Milliband was a UK politician. He'd obviously absorbed this advice from his own communications team. Maybe a little too well. In an interview about public sector strikes he had something to say. So he said it five times in a row. No matter the question, Ed Milliband said the following:
"These strikes are wrong at a time when negotiations are still going on. But parents and the public have been let down by both sides because the government has acted in a reckless and provocative manner. After today's disruption, I urge both sides to put aside the rhetoric, get round the negotiating table and stop it happening again."
A good key message is timeless. You can dust it off and use it again and again. Ed could have used it for a sixth time last week over the teachers strikes here in New Zealand.
Up and down the country, working parents were forced to make plans for young children who had no school to go to because their teachers were striking. The teachers were striking because they wanted better pay and better working conditions. These are very reasonable things to ask for.
The Government made an offer to the primary and intermediate schools' union - NZEI - of about $700 million. This would be roughly a $9,500 pay increase for your average teacher, spread out over three years. This offer had previously been rejected. However there were a few changes made to the offer to try and improve the teachers' working conditions, not just their pay.
After facilitation, ERA strongly recommended that NZEI take the Government's offer. They said that the difference between what NZEI was demanding and what the Government was offering was $1.8 billion. Or about one third of the surplus the Government showed off a few months back.
The updated offer was never voted on and like the Autobots, the strikes rolled out.
It's widely - but not wholly - accepted that teachers are horrendously under-paid for what they do. As the child of two teachers, I saw how hard my parents worked out of school hours to make sure they were delivering for the young minds of our country. I saw how passionate they were for the work they did, and how little pay they got for it.
There was a graphic that flashed around online to reinforce this. It showed that 40 years ago, the gap between a teacher's salary and an MP's was bugger all. Now teachers earn less than half what an MP does. Who would you rather was teaching your children?
Last week during the strike two things happened that reflect very poorly on both sides. First, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said that he was disappointed the union was going ahead with the strike rather than taking the new offer to its members - which is fair - but then he went on to try create public dissatisfaction with teachers by saying that "I think that a $9,500 pay rise is a pay rise that many other New Zealanders would certainly appreciate."
Mate, you can't sow discord between different workers. Trying to play us off against each other neglects to address the actual problem which is under-funding from successive governments. You're right, I do want a pay rise, and $9,500 over three years would be lovely. But I also want teachers to have a pay-rise and better working conditions. It's not an either/or situation. You're the bloody Labour party. You're supposed to be here for all workers. Not trying to divide and conquer us. We'd expect that of previous Governments.
The other thing that happened was that NZEI issued a joint press release with their secondary school counterparts saying they were having a meeting to discuss joint strike-action in 2019. Secondary school teachers have their pay negotiations next year and so it's likely we'll have more strikes.
The release did say that this was contingent on the NZEI membership voting down the new offer, but boy oh boy, this sure does look like bad faith negotiating. When you dangle a carrot of "we'll strike even stronger next year!" Then the merits of the offer look a lot weaker, and you're almost guaranteeing that you'll get a "no" vote. At least wait until the membership has voted before issuing threats of bigger strikes next year.
All in all, neither side has covered themselves in glory.
National education spokesperson, Nikki Kaye, has of course seized this opportunity to concern-troll Labour over how hard done by the teachers are, despite having been Education Minister last year and in a position to do something about their pay. She argues that National didn't have the money to do it, but that Labour does - I guess because they've managed the economy well?
To the Government's credit, they did scrap National Standards which has freed up time for teachers, and they have committed to 600 new learning coordinators to help children with complex needs - another thing NZEI has been asking for. But I think in the words of a wise man, "I urge both sides to put aside the rhetoric, get round the negotiating table and stop it happening again".
Failing that, just pay the bloody teachers what they're worth.
- David Cormack has worked for the Labour and Green Parties and interned for Bill English while studying