The Ministry of Education has decided to pay striking teachers in full today, surprising the secondary teachers' union ahead of talks aimed at resolving the teachers' pay dispute on Thursday.
The move, announced by ministry deputy secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid, overrides school principals' expectations that they would have to dock the teachers' pay for refusing to teach Year 9 classes in the first of a planned series of partial strikes.
It comes two days before the ministry and Education Minister Chris Hipkins are due to meet the two teacher unions to try to resolve the teachers' claims over pay and conditions which led to a national teachers' strike last week.
"Given this action only affects one year group at a time and will not affect the full school day for teachers, striking teachers will still be getting paid," MacGregor-Reid said.
"It is important for parents to know that schools will still be open and they are able and entitled to send their Year 9 child to school today, where at the least supervision should be provided".
Today's action was the start of a planned month-long series in which Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) members said they would refuse to teach Year 9 students today, Year 10 next Tuesday, Year 11 on June 25 and Year 12 on July 2.
A week of regional strikes is also planned in the week beginning June 17.
A ministry spokeswoman pointed to advice posted on the NZ School Trustees Association website on Friday stating that teachers refusing to teach only one year level were engaged in a "partial" strike and should still be paid in full, even though schools were required to report to the ministry on how many hours each teacher did not work.
"A key difference between a partial and a full strike is that legislation does not allow the Secretary [of Education] to deduct/recover salary in respect of a partial strike," the advice said.
"The strike action spreadsheet, as detailed in para 3 above, is required to meet the Ministry's statutory reporting requirements [on industrial action] to MBIE [Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment]."
PPTA Principals' Council chairman James Morris said this morning that teachers' pay would be docked if they had been due to teach Year 9 classes.
"You just calculate the number of minutes that a particular teacher on a particular day was not teaching their class if they had a Year 9 class on that day, and just report that back [to the ministry]," he said.
Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association chairman Tom Webb confirmed that pay would be docked.
"Teachers are docked pay for the proportion of the day that they would normally be teaching Year 9 classes," he said.
PPTA president Jack Boyle said he was also surprised by the ministry's decision.
"I am somewhat surprised, but you know, it's not a disappointing surprise," he said.
"At the moment we are seeking confirmation of what looks to be an acknowledgement from the Ministry of Education that those workers who were involved in today's partial action will not be deducted."
However Secondary Principals' Association president Deidre Shea said she found out from the website of the primary teachers' union, the NZ Educational Institute, that pay could no longer be deducted legally for a partial strike.
"The law has changed," the NZEI website says.
"Until December 2018, employers had the right to deduct at least 10 per cent from workers' pay when workers took partial strike action. Sections 95A-H of the Employment Relations Act have now been repealed, so employers no longer have the power to do this."
Boyle said the former National Government changed the law to allow employers to deduct 10 per cent of pay for a partial strike after the Ministry of Education found that it could not deduct pay when teachers refused to teach certain year levels in 2011.
"It was too administratively burdensome for them," he said.
"Subsequent to that, the National Government changed the legislation, enabling a deduction from the unionised workforce of 10 per cent for a partial strike.
"That was overturned by the Employment Relations Act reforms that have just got royal assent this year.
"As to whether or not an across-the-board deduction for partial strikes going is the same as not being empowered to make deductions for partial strikes, that is above my level of understanding. That is ultimately for the Ministry of Education to decide."
Hipkins has invited the PPTA and NZEI to talks with him and Ministry of Education officials on Thursday to discuss the "many, varied and complex" issues being raised by the teachers.
"The Government is committed to taking action to address those concerns progressively over time," he said. "These talks, set down for Thursday, June 6, will focus on how we can do this."