About 50,000 teachers in New Zealand went on strike on Thursday, demanding better pay and working conditions amid rising costs of living and teacher shortages.
The one-day strike affected kindergartens as well as primary and secondary schools across the country, forcing many parents to find alternative arrangements for their children. Teachers held rallies and marches in major cities, waving placards and chanting slogans.
The teachers’ unions said they rejected the government’s latest pay offer, which ranged from 2.75% to 3.9% over three years, depending on experience and qualifications. They said the offer did not keep up with inflation, which reached 4.9% in September, the highest level since 2011.
They also said they wanted more resources and support for teachers who deal with large class sizes, heavy workloads and challenging student behavior. They said the education sector was facing a crisis due to a lack of qualified and experienced teachers, especially in subjects such as maths, science and technology.
“We are striking because we love teaching and we want to provide quality education for our students,” said Liam Rutherford, president of the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), which represents primary school teachers. “But we can’t do that if we are underpaid, overworked and undervalued.”
Education Minister Jan Tinetti said she was disappointed that the strike went ahead despite ongoing negotiations with the unions. She said the government had made a fair and reasonable offer that reflected its fiscal constraints amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
She also said the government had invested more than NZ$2 billion ($1.4 billion) in education since taking office in 2017, including hiring more than 2,000 extra teachers, reducing class sizes and increasing funding for learning support.
“I understand that teachers have high expectations and aspirations for their profession,” she said. “But we have to balance that with what is affordable and sustainable for taxpayers.”
The strike was supported by some parents and students who joined the protests or expressed solidarity on social media. However, some parents criticized the disruption caused by the strike and questioned whether it would achieve any positive outcomes.