The learning support specialists on strike in Rotorua today are small in number but large in spirit.
About 40 learning support specialists from Rotorua, Taupō, Whakatāne and Tauranga picketed along Ranolf St today as part of nationwide strikes co-ordinated by education union the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa.
Learning support specialists include psychologists, speech language therapists physiotherapists and occupational therapists among others, employed directly by the Ministry of Education.
Michael Foxx, who worked as a psychologist in Tauranga and was also on the union's negotiating team said the biggest issue was workload.
He said he had more than 40 cases and the ideal number was between 15 and 30.
"We've been in negotiations with the ministry [of education] and they've acknowledged that but they also have to acknowledge we need the specialists. We're all stretched as far as we can go.
"We've got kids who have to be put on the back burner because something comes up, kids that have to wait for services.
"We're servicing the high end, the one per cent of kids that need services."
NZEI president Linda Stuart was also at the picket line on strike day.
"What we've got is a situation where we absolutely can't get people into these jobs," she said.
"These people are absolutely critical. They are working with children in schools, they advise our teachers, our teacher aides. They support families who have got children with learning needs or challenging behaviour."
Stuart said the NZEI members had not made the decision to strike lightly.
"What they are saying is the offer put to them was absolutely not enough to keep people in the profession. People with these skills can go out and work in the private sector so why would they choose to work in the ministry when they are not being valued properly?"
Stuart said the Ministry of Education had allocated more funding to learning support services, but the union wanted more people.
"We need the people and to get them we need to be able to attract them."
Tauranga physio Sara Tipper said her case load averaged about 60 children with a varying number on a waiting list.
"It's an ongoing relationship with many schools and whanau do get very involved with the work. Relationships are important so when you continue adding more children it makes it challenging to keep on top of."
Tipper said she was the only person in her office but she was about to get help in the form of a part-time staff member.
"The important issue isn't the pay, it's the support. Especially in Tauranga where the population has grown hugely but we don't have more feet on the ground."
The Ministry of Education's deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said the ministry was committed to settling the agreement.
"We value the work that field staff do and know some field staff have high workloads at the moment and we are actively working to fill vacancies in areas where there is high demand.
"We have been discussing initiatives to address workload concerns with the unions, including mutually agreed guidelines for field staff and managers."
She said the ministry had funding for and was recruiting 52 severe behaviour specialists, 28 specialists to reduce early intervention services waiting lists, 15 specialists for the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme and six for the intensive wrap around service.