A bold new campaign to fix the pay gap in early childhood education has launched in Rotorua this morning. New Zealand Education Institute Te Riu Roa (NZEI) launched the campaign at its annual conference at Rotorua's Energy Events Centre where hundreds of teachers have gathered.
There is an average 23 per cent pay gap between early childhood and kindergarten teachers according to NZEI.
The union predicts by next year, some early childhood education teachers will be more than 45 per cent behind their kindergarten counterparts with the same experience and qualifications.
Ahead of upcoming negotiations, early childhood education teachers covered by the Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement (ECECA) have voted to endorse a claim for an immediate pay jolt of 11 per cent and for a stepped out pay plan to address the pay gap.
ECECA teachers also endorsed a campaign plan in which their claim will be voted on by the rest of the early childhood education sector, including a large number of early childhood education teachers who are not union members or covered by a collective agreement.
NZEI Te Riu Roa national secretary Paul Goulter told conference attendees the plan was "bold and innovative" and the first time he's heard of a union reaching outside of its membership to get backing for a claim.
"The ECECA is unique in that it sets the minimum rates for the rest of the early childhood education sector.
"That means all early childhood teachers, whether they're covered by a collective or not, have a stake in what we're claiming in these negotiations."
Goulter said the fight for the campaign began in 2017 and required a lot of determination.
He said the disputes of the union were not only for the teachers and principals, but for the communities they served.
"Their fight is our fight," he said.
This was the fight for every child to succeed, the fight for the schools and communities and the fight for teaching to be a respected and trusted profession.
Goulter called key members of the NZEI to acknowledge the work put into the fight and come to an agreement with the Government.
The group of teachers received a standing ovation.
"Who would've thought this group could send the Government to their knees," he said.
After Goulter made the announcement, the room cheered.
Goulter said it was important to have paid parity across the education sector and the entire sector needed to support the early childhood sector as they did not have the man power to do so.
The parity campaign would replace asking teachers to join the union and instead ask all teachers across the board to join the campaign.
He said this would help combat joining a union which could lead to employment hostility.
"Fix the gap," was chanted by teachers as Goulter concluded.
Early childhood education teacher Chloe Lundie-Hodge said recent collective agreement settlements in kindergarten and primary have only highlighted how much early childhood education teachers have been left behind by more than a decade of severe underfunding.
"The gap between early childhood education and kindergarten teachers is now between 9.5 per cent and 49 per cent.
"That is just not okay. We need the Government to commit to an urgent pay jolt to start closing the gap, and then set out a plan for how they will close the gap for good."
The campaign includes the launch of a website - ECEVoice.org.nz - where the union wants all early childhood education teachers to vote on the claim.
A yellow piece of paper was in the middle of each table at the conference and members were invited to put a tick on the paper if they agreed with the paid parity.
Votes were placed in large boxes while the song Respect by Aretha Franklin played.
These would be used to show ECE teachers they were supported in the fight as members placed their votes.
The Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement (ECECA) covers only a small percentage of the 30,000 teachers working in early childhood education, but it sets the minimum pay rates for the sector.
Negotiations for the ECECA are between members of NZEI Te Riu Roa and a number of early childhood education providers throughout the country.
The Ministry of Education is not a party to the negotiations, but as the main funder of early childhood education, the Government's funding and policy decisions directly impact these negotiations.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins spoke to NZEI union members at the conference on Monday.
In a statement to the Rotorua Daily Post he said the Government was not directly responsible for early childhood employment terms, but the sector was his top priority.
"With the exception of Te Kura, all teachers of early learning services are employed independently of the Government. So, despite an ECE provider holding a Government-issued licence and subsidies for its services, the Government is not directly responsible for setting teachers' terms and conditions of employment.
"The only exception is kindergarten teachers, who are part of the state sector.
"I have, however, made it clear to the sector that ECE is my top priority going into the next Budget."