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Source: Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA)

Thanks to its branch banding together to support part-time members, Hutt Valley High is one of the few schools in the country to achieve pay equity through paid non-contact time. Former branch Chair Chris Carr shares how this was achieved

Chris Carr

Workload remains equal whether part-time or not

The working conditions of part-time teachers have been a concern for the PPTA for decades. Dating back to at least 2002 PPTA members have fought to have part-time staff pay better reflect the essential work they perform.

The problem is built into the very nature of contemporary teaching. Unlike many jobs, teaching is not easily scaled. We can reduce a teacher’s class load but many essential aspects of a teacher’s job remain equal whether you’re part-time or not. Meetings, extra-curricular activities, pastoral care, and NCEA requirements rarely shrink in direct correlation to our overall class loads and even if you do manage to shrink these, you’re doing so at the cost of missing out on important parts of what makes teaching work. Part-timers are often struck with a choice either work for free or feel like they’re failing in their jobs.

Each of the school’s part-time staff members is essential

Like many schools, Hutt Valley High employs a significant number of part-timers. The reasons for their part-time status varies from teacher to teacher; many are parents who need to reduce their teaching load so that they have time to care for their children; some are completing additional study, others are simply wanting to reduce their teaching load so that they have some degree of work-life balance in what we know can be an all-consuming profession.

Each of the school’s part-time staff members is essential, not only are they all great teachers on their own merits, but they often teach in hard to staff roles or provide the school with the flexibility needed to make the complex mathematics of timetabling work out. To put it simply, the school could not function without them.

An inequitable situation

Despite this, until this year many of Hutt High’s part-time staff felt undervalued. Like many schools around New Zealand, Hutt High did not pay for pro-rata non-contact hours for staff working less than .8 of a full time load. Why would it? While the STCA guarantees non-contacts for full time-staff and those working above .8 the contract only asks that a school endeavour to provide them for those whose load falls below this ratio and does not offer anything for those working below .4.

For Hutt High’s part-time staff this was clearly inequitable. Working part-time doesn’t mean that you don’t need to plan your classes, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to mark their work, it doesn’t get rid of all the essential and time consuming administration needed to function as a teacher. All those things which make non-contacts essential for us do our jobs don’t just disappear the moment you drop below a full load.

Part-timers sit in the same meetings as full-time staff

Instead of this, part-timers were given a 11% boost to their pay, provided for by the Ministry of Education. At a glance, this looks like it solves the problem, here’s a relatively small chunk of money to make up for the small amount of pay you lose when you give up your non-contacts, only the two don’t quite equal out, non-contacts make up 20% of your overall teaching load. More importantly, this payment is explicitly not designed to cover non-contact time; it’s to compensate part-timers for the fact that, inevitably, large portions of their role will not be reduced in accordance with their classes.

Part-timers sit in the same meetings as full-time staff, take part in the same PD and appraisal processes, and take on the same extra-curricular and pastoral duties and while these may be reduced somewhat along with contact time, they rarely do so fairly.

Support from the wider branch

The issue of part-time pay had been sitting in the branch’s too-hard basket until last year. I was acting as branch chair and had switched to part-time while studying and (to my fault) it was only once I saw my new payslip that I truly understood the issue. Most teachers don’t talk about the specifics of their pay and, while I was vaguely aware that part-timers were underpaid, I had no idea of the specifics of how or why.

It was only after the branch organised meetings with all the part-timers that the issue became clear. At these meetings we were able to make sense of our payslips, articulate the problems, and to realise that this was a problem that we literally couldn’t afford to ignore. We needed a plan of action and we needed the support of the wider branch to make it work. On taking it to the whole branch we were amazed by the level of support that we had. It was then that we decided to pursue the issue as a branch and to do so persistently until an acceptable solution was developed.

“Fairness on our side and the voice of the branch behind us”

What followed was not simple or easy. Discussions with school leadership were complex and often heated. It’s worth stating clearly that, in not paying non-contacts, the school was not acting illegally, they were obeying the letter of the STCA and providing minimum entitlements. We were asking the school to take its already stretched budget and stretch it even further.

We were asking the school to make real sacrifices to provide not just what they were entitled to by law but what they deserved as teachers. For Hutt High this would mean a substantial budget shortfall, one which the ministry would not accept easily and which would need to be made up from other savings. We had fairness on our side and the voice of the branch behind us.

Teachers and leadership wanted the same thing

Ultimately however, teachers and leadership wanted the same thing. We wanted teachers to be happy, to feel valued and to be able to put all into their jobs without feeling they were being ripped off. It’s this which allowed us to reach an agreement with school leadership. As of the first pay cycle of this year our part-time staff are receiving pay that reflects their hours of work both inside and outside of the classroom. We are one of the minority of schools who can now state with confidence that we have achieved pay equity in our branch.

We must continue to pressure the ministry to fix this injustice

Efforts like this aren’t solution to part-timers conditions. They depend on teachers working hard to assert their value, schools supporting them, and (most importantly) budgets being able to stretch to accommodate this at a time when most New Zealand schools are struggling to afford the staff they need to cover a full range of subjects. It is unlikely that we will see a mass movement of schools rushing to provide non-contacts from their own staffing entitlements and while that is the case the situation remains inequitable. While our efforts have improved conditions for Hutt High teachers we now work in the knowledge that our conditions are better than the conditions of many of the schools that surround us. A new inequity exists and until this issue is resolved at a system level, it will continue to do so. This is why it is essential that we, as an association, continue to fight for improvements to the conditions off all part timers, why we must support our plaintiffs in their equal pay court case and why we must continue to pressure the ministry to fix this injustice.

Last modified on Monday, 1 April 2019 12:00