The journey to pay equity for teacher aides

Ako speaks with Annie Te Moana and Ally Kemplen, members of the teacher aide pay equity negotiation team about the journey to mana taurite

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On 12 February 2020, four years after lodging a pay equity claim, teacher aides finally reached a settlement.

The pay equity deal is worth $348 million over the next five years and will see 22,000 teacher aides move to new pay rates of between $21.20 and $34.68 an hour. It also provides more certainty around hours and more funding for professional development.

The teacher aide pay equity negotiation team was made up of Ally Kemplen, Annie Te Moana, Fa’a Sisnett, Sue Poole, Andrea Andrews and Marcia Martin.

We talked to Ally and Annie about their experience of the campaign and negotiations.

Annie Te Moana is a teacher aide at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mangere, the school she attended herself as a student. Annie has an extremely varied role as Gateway coordinator, STAR coordinator, principal’s nominee and the student pathway manager. “I love the freedom of being able to be there for the students. Teaching kapa haka and seeing their faces light up, singing our waiata, that’s what keeps me here and keeps me passionate about teaching our tamariki, especially in te reo Māori,” says Annie.

This passion for her role and her students is what made her an obvious choice when NZEI Te Riu Roa were looking for teacher aide negotiators.

After being part of the teacher aide collective agreement negotiations, Annie was asked if she would be interested in being part of the pay equity negotiating team.

“I had no idea about negotiations or what sort of mahi NZEI does for members. Our worksite rep, Whaea Margie, always informs us of hui and we go but I’d never been involved in negotiations. It was an eye opener for me,” says Annie.

“I saw why they wanted more representation from Māori and Pasifika as there was nothing. Ally got me and Fa’a. On our first day we were like ‘what’s going on?’ but we both enjoyed it.”

Ally Kemplen, teacher aide at Newton Central School, is a long-running NZEI Te Riu Roa member and teacher aide campaigner. Starting as worksite rep, Ally moved into the Auckland SSNCKT role in July 2017. In this role she worked with Sue Nimmo and her remarkable group of women who pioneered the first teacher aide pay equity claim, subsequently thrown out by the 2007 incoming government. “They were at the forefront of the pay equity movement and it was a real privilege and honour to learn from them and to see they were still holding strong and ready to fight,” says Ally.

The mana taurite (pay equity) negotiations were between NZEI Te Riu Roa, the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand School Trustees Association. It was an intensive process over several days from late last year to early this year.

These negotiations are much more collaborative compared to a collective agreement because both sides have already worked together to identify the undervaluation and the issues to be solved. The negotiations are focussed on resolving the issues.

“There was a lot of discussion. And that’s how we work as Māori; we wānanga. It was nothing new to me talking openly in those situations. When we were discussing our roles and our everyday lives with the Ministry it was clear that some of them had no idea about the type of roles we were doing in our schools until those wānanga,” says Annie.

Each potential solution went through a formula to see if it was doable, legal and if it followed the State Services Commission’s Pay Equity principles.

“We found we could make such positive movement in this bargaining as we weren’t adversarial,” says Ally. “We were all actually working together for the same purpose even if we had different ideas about how to get there.”

“We were really fired up and really determined” says Ally. “It was so great that there were teacher aides in the room and the rest of the team weren’t thinking of us in the abstract. We were saying this is me, this is my work, this is what it looks like for me and don’t you forget it.”

The mana taurite negotiation team from L-R: Annie Te Moana, Marcia Martin, Sue Poole, Ally Kemplen, Andrea Andrews and Fa’a Sisnett

However, with the ups came the downs. “There were moments when we stepped out and realised that we weren’t going to achieve everything and that was really, really tough.”

The negotiating team had to spend a lot of time away from their families and jobs. “It was hard at times,” Annie says. “There was a lot of waiting around, getting up early, going down [to Wellington]. The NZEI office were awesome and made it much easier for us. They had all the paperwork ready in the office and we knew we didn’t have to carry that load back to our everyday lives.”

The team bonded quickly and were a tight unit. They would have breakfast together before each day of negotiations and while they were a small team, they drew strength from the support they felt from teacher aides all around the country. “Honestly, I just found it so exciting to be a part of, to quote Jacinda, the team of 22,000. I felt so privileged to be able to be part of the team that worked towards making that happen,” says Ally.

On 12 February 2020, the parties reached agreement on a proposed framework for resolution of the claim.

It had been a long process. The beginnings of this claim had started in December 2016. Preparation for the negotiations took over three and a half years. This included obtaining job descriptions, interviewing teacher aides around the country, creating a general summary of work, assembling an assessment tool and then identifying the male-dominated work comparators.

“It was really hard saying to members for a long time, ‘pay equity is coming, pay equity is coming,’ as it did take longer than we expected it to,” says Ally. “Some of it was because the work was a lot bigger than we thought it was going to be and the work was also quite technical, but it was our one chance to get it right. Sometimes it was the other team slowing things down. So that was why it was such a win getting that February 12 date. We knew then that however long it took we were still going [to be backdated] to February 12.”

Even though the process felt slow, it was the stories of teacher aides from around the country that stuck in the hearts of those on the negotiating team. The bravery of teacher aides when sharing their work stories and the realities of living on low pay kept the team motivated knowing what a change it would make for these educators.

When asked what getting the pay equity settlement across the line means, it is evident that the magnitude of the settlement hasn’t fully sunk in yet. The three percent increase in February negotiated as part of the collective agreement gave a sense of it, but Ally says no longer running out of money at the end of every fortnight will take some getting used to. “I don’t think until we’re really living in it will we genuinely have that feeling that this is all the time, this isn’t a one off.”

One of Ally’s favourite parts of the settlement is the increase to the professional learning development fund from $0.79 million to $2.29 million. “We’re having conversations all over about structuring professional development across the school so we can be specialists in certain areas and just keep adding to our knowledge. I can’t wait to access all of that.”

Ally says that lifting up and acknowledging the value of teacher aides was the key standout for the team. “We went in as a bunch of stroppy women in the first place, but this has elevated us so we’re all walking around with an entrenched sense of empowerment.”

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