The Remuneration Authority has done teachers a favour. The Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement expires later this year, and our union, the Post-Primary Teachers' Association, is preparing our new pay claim. The authority made it very easy for us to figure out our claim - it should be a raise of 5.5 per cent.
This, after all, was the increase the authority awarded Members of Parliament. Plenty of MPs, from Prime Minister John Key down, disingenuously declared themselves, as they prepared to wheel their barrows of cash to the bank, unworthy of this raise.
The PM has finally announced the Government will put forward a bill that will change the way the authority - a body established by MPs, answerable to MPs - decides how much money to throw at MPs. But it has taken him quite a while to address MP pay. He has, at last, taken steps to correct a system he's both benefited from and criticised, but not enough to take action, the public outcry presumably not having been enough to shame him into doing so until now.
Salaries for MPs continue to climb at a vertiginous rate. In 1976, the year before the Remuneration Authority was established, the top pay rate for a secondary school teacher was $14,580. Had teachers' salaries simply kept pace with inflation in the past 39 years, that number would now be $109,000, instead of the $72,000 it is - a third higher. Backbench MPs, in 1976, were paid less than top-band teachers; today, after their raise, they have a basic pay of $156,000.
We should have sympathy for MPs, of course. Winston Peters, a man who believes he is the best candidate to represent in Parliament one of the most economically depressed areas in New Zealand, believes that his job is, at $165,000 per year, not "highly paid". If a job that makes about four times the national median wage isn't highly paid, then New Zealand's economy is less a rock star and more the support act for a second-rate polka band, and Mr Peters should be agitating strongly in Parliament for a realistic pay settlement for teachers.
It's unlikely that we will get such a settlement, however. Secondary teacher salaries have fallen behind inflation for longer than most of us have been in the profession, and this year's pay round shows no indication of being any different. The more militant members of my school's branch tell me they would support an all-out strike, but the national membership of the PPTA are not likely to vote for that kind of action.
This should not be taken as acquiescence. We are appalled by the lack of respect this Government has for our profession, but, having watched our pay erode steadily, most of us lack the financial reserves required for the indefinite strike that might, perhaps, encourage the Ministry of Education to reach into the same fund that managed to provide $359 million for the dog's breakfast that is Investing in Educational Success, and find the money for an acceptable settlement.
We have, effectively, lost the ability to exercise our right to strike, leaving us at the mercy of a ministry that would treat us less as professionals and more as resources to be funded as inexpensively as possible. We are professionals, of course. The bar to entry into the profession is considerably higher than that required of MPs. We must obtain professional registration, and then reapply every three years, by coincidence as frequently as MPs have to convince the country of their suitability for the job.
The Government has been trying to introduce performance-related pay for teachers for years; the Remuneration Authority states on its website that no performance indicators are required of MPs. So this year, the job of the PPTA should be simple.
Rather than trying to come up with a figure for our pay adjustment, and a justification, our claim is obvious - 5.5 per cent, the same obscenely generous figure the authority deemed necessary for MPs and which most were willing to trouser until public opinion became a little uncomfortable.
But we're not unreasonable. We'll compromise. We won't demand that, like MP salaries, it be backdated to last July.
Steve McCabe is a PPTA branch chairman and teacher at a decile 1 high schoolin South Auckland.