Thousands of teachers protest low pay

Thousands of teachers protest low pay on March 16, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand.

(Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Tens of Thousands of New Zealand Teachers Strike to Protest Shortages, Low Pay

"Investing in teachers is investing in our kids," said one educator. "Investing in our kids is investing in New Zealand's future."

An estimated 50,000 New Zealand educators walked off the job Thursday to demand better pay, improved working conditions, and more government support amid a worsening cost-of-living crisis and a teacher shortage that has left many questioning their future in the profession.

The one-day nationwide strike, spearheaded by the Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) and New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), kicked off after the trade unions rejected the Labour government's offers on pay, benefits, and other issues as inadequate to meet the needs of educators who have been under massive strain since the coronavirus pandemic began three years ago.

"I'm striking because the early years are the most important for our children," said kindergarten teacher Virginia Oakly, who joined tens of thousands of her fellow educators at Thursday's demonstrations.

"I'm striking because our kindergarten teachers currently don't have enough sick leave," Oakly added. "We know that it's one of the highest sectors in the country to suffer from illness and that has been made worse with Covid-19. We also can't get enough relievers to cover those absences because of the pay cap that doesn't recognize their experience and knowledge."

The New Zealand strike is part of a growing global wave of labor actions as teachers, nurses, transit workers, and others revolt against government austerity and pay that has lagged behind inflation, which remains elevated around the world.

The Guardianreported Thursday that New Zealand teachers "have so far turned down three pay rise offers from the government of 3%, and say they want 15% or more to continue their work."

In a report released late last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) found that "six out of 10 countries pay primary school teachers less than other professionals with similar qualifications."

"This criterion is particularly evident in high-income countries," UNESCO noted. "In five out of six countries in this group, primary school teachers earn less than other comparable professionals."

As part of their push for higher pay and better conditions, teachers in the U.K. are currently on the second day of a two-day strike, and tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers are planning a three-day walkout beginning next week.

Last month, around 100,000 teachers took to the streets of Lisbon, Portugal to demand "respect for our profession."

New Zealand teachers, who have been engaged in contract negotiations with the government for nearly a year, echoed that call on Thursday.

"Teachers are crying out for a better work-life balance and to be recognized as the professionals that we are," said Maiana McCurdy, an Auckland primary school teacher. "As a mother, I'm striking because I want to know that my child's teacher is going to have the support they need to manage the increasingly difficult challenges that our tamariki are coming into the classroom with."

In an op-ed for The New Zealand Herald ahead of Thursday's walkouts, science and math teacher Peter Wills wrote that "we're striking so your kids can have teachers with the time to create great lessons for your children."

"Investing in teachers is investing in our kids," Wills added. "Investing in our kids is investing in New Zealand's future."

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