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Source: Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA)

An Employment Court decision completely upholds PPTA’s advice to members about hours of work.

A recent decision handed down in the Employment Court completely vindicates PPTA advice to members about their hours of work and when schools are not open for instruction.

The case relates to a dispute that arose in 2012 when the then PPTA Te Wehengarua branch chair at Rodney College claimed actual and reasonable costs for members who were required to attend school during term time for parent teacher meetings, prize-giving and open school evenings.  This was in accordance with the then Secondary Teachers’ Collective Employment Contract (STCEC) which stated that where teachers are required to attend school or elsewhere when the school is “not open for instruction” they shall be reimbursed for any actual and reasonable costs incurred.

When the Board of Trustees refused to pay the costs, the dispute, now involving the Ministry of Education, went to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA). The ERA found in the Board and Ministry’s favour but PPTA Te Wehengarua challenged the finding, and the matter, now between PPTA and the Ministry of Education, went to the Employment Court.

When is a school not open for instruction?

At the heart of the case was interpretation of the words “not open for instruction”, as they related to clauses that had been included in the STCEC in 1996 and 1999 respectively, providing for teachers to be ‘called back’ when the school was not open for instruction, for up to 10 days a year – five days professional development and five days administrative and other duties such as administration and reporting on individual students’ progress.

 At the time of the 1999 STCEC settlement, PPTA shared with the Ministry of Education its advice to members that report evenings, open nights etc. constituted out of the ordinary or extra involvement outside the period when the school was open for instruction. PPTA’s advice to members was that to operate the call back clause sensibly, for all intents and purposes, the school day and teachers’ normal hours of work should be regarded as being from 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday – Friday during the school term. Times outside of this would fall into the category of times when the school was not open for instruction.

PPTA interpretation ‘entirely consistent’ with STCA

In her decision, Employment Court Judge Kathryn Beck said ‘it appears that the Ministry and the union made the call to rely on collaborative relationships within the schools to work it out on a day to day basis… That approach was effective for at least 12 years.’

During the hearing the Secretary of Education argued that once the school was open for instruction on a day, that rendered the whole day as “open for instruction”.  Judge Beck found that the Secretary’s view was not only “commercially absurd” but, more importantly, it was inconsistent with the provisions of the STCEC and subsequent Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreements in terms of the definition of overtime and the length of a school day. On the other hand, Judge Beck found that PPTA’s interpretation of the times when the school is not open for instruction as being before 8.30am and after 4.30pm on days during the school term was “entirely consistent” with the purpose and context of the Collective Agreement.

“There is nothing to prevent a school scheduling courses or events and requiring attendance by the teacher at times during the school week when the school is not open for instruction. It simply means that the time should be credited towards either their professional development or administration days and if reasonable costs were actually incurred as result, they be reimbursed.”

PPTA advice vindicated

This decision completely vindicates PPTA Te Wehengarua advice, i.e. schools that require staff to be on site before 8.30am or after 4.30pm on a weekday during term time, will have to:

  • Operate the call back provisions (which we advise is limited to 25 hours per year for administration and 25 hours per year for professional development), or
  • Agree time in lieu, or
  • Agree alternative start and finish times with staff that do not exceed eight hours, or
  • Cease requiring the attendance at those times.

Teachers can still choose to be on site outside the hours of 8.30am–4.30pm. If they are volunteering to take extracurricular sports teams etc they would still be able to do that after 4.30 pm.

PPTA has also advised schools that pending the outcome of our hours of work claim in the current STCA round we will not disturb existing arrangements where the staff and the principal have agreed to different open-for-instruction start and finish times provided these do not exceed eight hours.

Nothing in the court findings requires that teachers must be on site for eight hours and current practice in attendance should continue, subject to the limitation.

Last modified on Thursday, 8 September 2022 14:56