Teaching is undervalued right across the education sector. Historically, the education and care of children was seen as ‘women’s work’, and the sector is still predominantly female. As a result, many educators are of the view they have not been valued for the mahi they do.
But 2020 amendments to the Equal Pay Act 1972 means pay equity claims are now more within reach. For the threshold for a pay equity claim to proceed, it must be proved that the work is predominantly performed by female employees (the teaching workforce is at least 80 percent female), and that the work is currently undervalued or has been historically undervalued. The nature of teaching has required employees to use some skills or qualities traditionally associated with women and also regarded as not requiring financial compensation. As a result, all skills required in teaching, have not been properly remunerated – meaning a gender-based systemic undervaluation of the work is at play.
In recent years, there’s been some impressive wins for other groups in our education sector. They include the first pay equity settlement for a Māori workforce, for kaiārahi i te reo, as well as settlements for teacher aides and school administration staff, school librarians and science technicians. Currently claims are underway for kindergarten support staff, therapists employed in the state sector and at the Ministry of Education as well as for service managers, education advisors and psychologists.
Riding on this momentum, it is time to consider what pay equity for all teachers could mean – the next biggest education sector claim to be conducted by NZEI Te Riu Roa.
The claim covers more than 90,000 school and early childhood certificated teachers, principals, unqualified and early intervention teachers. It spans all settings: from early learning, primary, kura kaupapa Māori, area, composite and secondary, and covers a diverse range of roles.
The Teachers’ Pay Equity Claim has been raised by NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA). The employers include the Ministry of Education and more than 500 private and community-based early childhood education (ECE) centres.
Seeing a claim through takes time – likely to be years. However, those who have gone through the process, under previous claims, say it’s worth it.
In sharing their experiences, teachers and principals are urged to consider what the fight for pay equity would mean for them and their whānau.
Auckland teacher aide Sara Baldwin says achieving pay equity has been “really amazing” for her and her fellow teacher aides, who now feel that they are now both recognised and better remunerated for the work they do.
As the team leader of the learning support team at Prospect School in Glen Eden, Sara says the teacher aide role has changed hugely in the 16 years she’s been working in a primary school. It’s gone from “working on full stops and washing the paint brushes”, to putting programmes together, testing children and reporting on progress. “The job got bigger, and bigger, and bigger.”
At the same time, teacher aides were “scraping along” on minimum wage, with no job security. Some took second or even third jobs.
When NZEI Te Riu Roa raised a pay equity claim with the Ministry of Education it gave many teacher aides a new awareness. “We realised how full on our job was, and how badly we were being paid.”
Sara says teacher aides bring a wide range of skills to the classroom. For example, some teacher aides go into the work because they have children with special needs, and they provide their lived experience in a critical area of education.
A union worksite rep, Sara played a key background role in the teacher aide campaign. Within her school, she organised a series of events during a ‘week of action’, to help raise the issue among teacher aides, teachers and parents. Sara went to meetings and passed on the information to her team, she got active on social media and wrote to MPs.
“We realised how full on our job was, and how badly we were being paid.”
Fa’a Sisnett, a teacher aide at Peninsula Primary School in Auckland, was a member of the teacher aides’ negotiations team. Fa’a has been a teacher aide for 22 years and lived in the Te Atatu community for over 30 years. With strong ties in the community she’s seen two generations of children attend the school.
Also a team leader and worksite rep, Fa’a had already been involved in the campaign by going to branch-level meetings and passing information on to colleagues.
She was surprised to be asked to join the team.
“I remember clearly asking, are you sure you’ve got the right person?” – but felt that, after years of being a union member, she was prepared and willing to step up. “I had to set aside any hint of self-doubt as I knew I could add something to the team.”
There were six teacher aides on the negotiating team, who went through several months of meetings, travelling to Wellington on a regular basis, as well as frequent remote meetings.
It was “an intense time”, says Fa’a, “in terms of the significance of the negotiations and the amount of information required to be familiar with. I was there to represent more than myself.”
Balancing the negotiations with work and family commitments was a juggle. Fa’a had to learn to not feel guilty about taking time away from the classroom. “I knew I had the strong support from my family, senior management at school and my colleagues.”
When the long-awaited pay equity settlement for teacher aides came through in 2020, Sara says she got around a 30 percent pay correction. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we could get that but, actually, we are worth it.”
Sara, who is in her fifties, could “finally” afford to sign up to KiwiSaver, pay for dental treatment, buy spectacles and put money aside for holidays. “Lots of things are easier now.”
Teacher aides receive more respect and support from teachers, she says, and there’s also a greater awareness among whānau and the general public about their role. Sara’s team see themselves as professionals – not “just” teacher aides. Sara says the investigation finally recognised and valued the hard work and contribution of teacher aides. “It proved the huge breadth of skills and roles that teacher aides bring to the job, it really is mind boggling.”
While pay equity is “amazing”, what would really make the difference, she says, is centralised funding, to allow teacher aides to work more hours and have job security. NZEI Te Riu Roa is involved in a high-level working group looking at the centralised funding of teacher aides. “This would make pay equity truly meaningful and the teacher aide job a real career.”
Fa’a agrees, saying recognition for teacher aides meant “so much”, but it was also “well overdue”.
“Teacher aides now have a pay equity matrix, which truly recognises the work that they do. There was a sense of amazement and hope, but there was also a sense of ‘this is not the end of the work for us, but it’s a start’.”
Fa’a’s teacher aide colleagues shared their feelings, too: “The win meant we actually make a financial contribution to our families” and: “Finally the value and worth that I bring as a person has been recognised by my employer [the Ministry].”
Fa’a says she stretched herself by taking part in the campaign. She also found her “advocate voice”.
“It proved to me I could use my voice and experience to contribute and influence.”
Sara has learned that women are “a powerful force when we are motivated”.
“It’s something that we’re not really taught that we can be, but if you find yourself with a cause that you’re really passionate about, you suddenly realise how strong you are and how strong we can be together.”
As a kaiārahi i te reo at Kawerau Putauaki school, Terrence Monaghan (Ngāti Awa) uses his in-depth knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori to support teachers in their classrooms, and the school community as a whole. The role not only supports Māori language and culture, it is helping preserve it.
Terrence first got involved with the pay equity campaign for kaiārahi i te reo when he joined an online hui.
The pay equity settlement was approved last year. His new pay rate is double what he received previously. He can now afford petrol to go and watch his teenagers, at school in Rotorua, play sport at weekends. He and his wife enjoy a fortnightly meal out. “There’s lots of benefits, I’m really rapt.”
As well as supporting kaiako with te reo Māori in their classrooms, Terrence also researches online resources, and creates units tailored to the school’s ākonga. Now, he says, he can do it all properly. “I really love it, it’s given me meaning.”
Terrence says the predominantly female team who negotiated for pay equity have done “a really wonderful thing” for everyone. “Pay equity is about valuing the work done by women. So the male kaiārahi have benefited heaps.”
It’s a sunny day in Kawerau after months of rain. Sitting under his favourite pohutukawa at kura, Terrence says he feels “a bit emotional” thinking about what the pay equity settlement has meant to him and his family. But, he says, “it’s a happy kōrero”.
“I hope all the kaiārahi feel like I do – awesome. It’s all about being valued, being appreciated, being acknowledged, for all the mahi we do.”
How the process works
The pay equity process involves interviewing hundreds of teachers to investigate their work. and then interviewing comparable selected male-dominated workforces.
Interviewees are selected to reflect all types of schools and early childhood educators, and across all job titles, to ensure all claimants are reflected in the claim. The claim is raised for all teachers – not just union members as it is a gendered issue. NZEI Te Riu Roa and its members do the mahi, as it would be costly and difficult for a non-member to do this on their own.
The interviews started in December 2022 and are likely to run throughout this year.
Maree Goodall, deputy principal at Churton Park School in Wellington, has been interviewing teachers and their supervisors, after attending a two-day training course in November run by NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Ministry of Education.
The interviews are done by a pair – one representative from NZEI Te Riu Roa and one from the Ministry of Education. One person interviews a teacher and, separately, their supervisor. The other person “scribes”, or writes up, the other interviews. Some interviews are face-to-face and some have been online. The interviews are confidential, anonymised and securely stored for other future claims.
Maree says the interview process aims to get a “spectrum of voice” that captures the wide range of experiences. The same questionnaire is used for both the claimant group and the comparators and the questions are based around knowledge, skills, responsibilities and demands of the mahi. “We are asking a range of questions relating to their job, their role, their workload, the responsibilities and their working conditions.”
So far Maree, and another interviewer, Kalesha Segatta, a teacher at Newlands Intermediate School, have been interviewing early childhood education (ECE) teachers.
Maree says she’s been “constantly amazed” by the scope of work done by ECE teachers, and their “dedication, empathy and commitment” to tamariki and colleagues. She says that’s on top of the in-depth knowledge of child development that ECE teachers bring to the job, as well as curricula and pedagogy.
“I knew their curriculum. But going into a range of settings has been interesting. It is such hard work for them.”
Kalesha says she was taken aback by the emotional burden that ECE teachers deal with.
“The mental toll that it takes is quite shocking.”
Kalesha says that when one interviewee was asked ‘how much work do you take home with you’, her response was revealing.
“She said, ‘Do you mean mental work, or physical work?’ I’d never heard it put like that before. It’s so important to recognise that difference between ‘I go home and do planning’ and ‘I go home and worry’.’”
The less visible skills that teachers do are a particular issue in the undervaluing of female-dominated work, and the pay equity questionnaire is specifically designed to do this.
Maree says women have been expected to have these skills as educators, but are not financially rewarded for them. However, she says, the interview process has been great at drawing these out.
“It’s those skills that go unnoticed, those empathetic skills. You say, ‘Is it in your job description?’ and they reply, ‘No, it’s just what I do’.
“It’s the hugs which can mean so much for little kiddies. The support they’re giving parents and whānau, the time they’re giving to explain things in different languages. They are prioritising all of this as important for their children and their families, and their centre.”
One challenge has been encouraging interviewees to talk about themselves specifically. “We want this person’s take on things. Often people are saying ‘we’, because schools and ECEs are very collaborative. But we need to home in on, ‘what have you done in the past 12 months?’. That’s the evidence we need to gather.”
Interview subjects are sent the transcribed interview to review. Later, all the interviews, which are anonymous, will be analysed. Data will be compiled. The next part of the process is to compare teachers’ work with appropriate male-dominated occupations. The Pay Equity Act states that comparable work can be either performed by male comparators that is the “same as, or substantially similar to”, the work to which the claim relates, or it is work performed by male comparators that is different if it involves “the same or substantially similar” skills and experiences, responsibilities, working conditions, or degrees of effort.
Kalesha says all teachers work hard, and that needs to be valued.
“It’s the workload and the time that is spent planning and marking, year prepping, meetings, communicating with parents and whānau, and making sure that work is openly visible.
“I think all of those things being recognised, appreciated and rewarded would be the main things that I would see as a win.”
“It is heartwarming to hear ECE teachers speak so passionately about their roles and work programmes, but it such hard work,” says Maree. “They are constantly adapting programmes to meet learners’ needs, strategically planning for future initiatives, managing often limited resources and budgets, supporting parents from a range of cultural backgrounds, and, of course, teaching the children entrusted to their care.
“We are here for the kids. But all teachers are making sacrifices.”
Kalesha hopes a win in pay equity that truly reflects teachers’ work and corrects undervaluation makes teaching a more attractive career.
“If the resulting report from all these interviews can make it really clear that the work that’s done in all sectors of education is truly meaningful and valuable, and highlight the positive things, then people will be more willing to get involved – and stay involved.
“Teaching is not something that’s easy, but it’s something that is incredibly rewarding.”