We're not anti-union just for the sake of it; as recently as five years ago, we were card carrying members of one of New Zealand's largest unions. However we are deeply cyncial about unions who schedule strikes at key times of the year in an effort to engender public support. We believe that the PPTA will lose support as a result of these strikes, and that some of the union's legitimate grievances may be lost in the clamour. But that is the PPTA's issue, and the union's members can consider that next time they elect leadership.
We are often criticised by a commenter or two for recycling the work of others; that's fine; we always give credit where it's due. However this editorial reflects our own thoughts so well that we are taking the rare step of reproducing it in its entirety. Under the heading "Get back to work, greedy teachers", it reads thus:
Secondary teachers' union head Kate Gainsford wants today's strike to be seen as being all about a Government that does not value teachers or education, and that is mucking her members about.
There is a good reason she is doing that.
Clothing its extravagant wage demands in the beguiling rhetoric of selfless dedication to the cause of education is the PPTA's only chance of making them acceptable to the public.
If the union were to get real it means it would lose the argument.
To win, it would have to demonstrate why, in straitened economic times when the Government is borrowing to cover costs, its members should get a 4 per cent pay rise after receiving 4 per cent in each of the previous three years.
It would need to convince the public why its members should be treated differently from nurses and police – and the bulk of the rest of the New Zealand workforce, which has had minimal or no pay rises.
It would mean telling them that there is something deeply wrong with a system where, according to Education Ministry figures, the average pay, with allowances, for a secondary teacher – not including principals – is $71,110, and where, of the 12,300 fulltime secondary teachers on the teacher salary payroll, 65 per cent earn between $60,000 and $80,000, and another 19 per cent earn more than $80,000, including 150 who earn more than $100,000.
It would mean explaining why there should be large pay increases when there is little evidence of large-scale recruitment and retention problems – and why they seem so willing to break off negotiations and resort to rolling strikes.
That is an impossible task. The reality is that for teachers to have the public on their side, parents of children who will spend what would have been their school hours today hanging around amusement arcades and shopping malls, or in front of a computer or television screen at home, need to feel there is something other than greed behind the strike decision.
Instead, the teachers must claim they have been mucked about, and not been valued.
However, even there the union is on shaky ground. Its stance would have more credibility were it to acknowledge that fixing what is wrong with the education system involves more than just fattening the wallets of all teachers in the system, increasing employer KiwiSaver contributions, providing flu injections and laptops, and delivering slightly smaller class sizes.
It means recognising that the quality of the teacher has more impact on student performance than class sizes, the background of the pupil or the school where the teaching takes place.
If the union was genuine, it would call off the strikes and work with the Government to devise a pay system that provides pay rises for the best, rather than seeking rewards for all, regardless of merit.
It is no surprise that there is no sign of that happening.