NZEI member says union has lost its teeth and is back to pressuring members

[Written on Facebook ‘Stand up for kids – protect our schools’  – distribute amongst your teaching colleagues.]

I love teaching, I love the spark in the eyes of the learners, and I love to challenge myself and the kids to achieve the best they can.

I try supporting my colleagues as best as I can, I try hard to be the teacher I wanted my kids to have.

I am not perfect, but I extend myself, I learn, I try to take on board new ideas and new ways forward.

I try hard to have an open mind.

I work in a supportive environment, with kind and wonderful people. I am not unhappy in my job.

I am saying that before I write the following because I want to make it clear I am not negative about education. I think there are amazing people out there, I think there is some, new and amazing stuff going on and I want to be a part of it, but …

This week I was at a union meeting again, and again I left angry and disappointed.

Not for myself, but for our students.

The real issues are being swept under the mat.

The agreement we were presented with was toothless, there were some small steps, actually tiny steps.

The rep was keen to point out the gains – the small victories.

I feel the negotiating team no doubt had a hard job getting any sort of agreement in the current climate.

The issue though is increasingly that we are presented with information and told to accept it, that there is no alternative.

Being told that we would be ‘hauled back’ (words of the rep) to more meetings if we didn’t agree to the settlement sounded like a threat.

And we ‘we will lose the back pay if it is not passed immediately.’

To be honest, if there was an alternative – such as fighting for the rights of students, I would gladly give up the pay.

Being told the one day in 2017, was a bargaining chip for further improvements in terms of release time, will be no good to the increasing number of teachers suffering from physical symptoms of stress now.

There is not another day in 2018.

This is a stepping stone we were told to help further negotiation in the next round.

I have a feeling, many of my colleagues in the room may have left the profession by then.

Where is the union’s responsibility to protect its members from undue stress and workload?

So when do we fight the real issues, the reduction of the teachers in early childhood, measuring kids in core subjects before they have truly settled into school, setting unrealistic targets, manipulating funding to make it look like an increase, when in real terms it is a reduction.

Increasing the paper workload due to the nature of the changes and expectations, but not giving teachers time to do this.

Teachers who are so exhausted and stressed they are breaking down. How many high quality teachers will we lose as they burn out? How many have lost the passion they had?

I would gladly forgo pay increases to secure release time benefits for our teachers and senior staff to protect their health.

I would again give back pay increases, to see clear provision of professional development that schools can afford in areas that they need, or that enhance expertise in areas beyond the ‘core’.

I would give back the small ‘gains’ we secured to see my colleagues able to cope again.

Sorry for the rant.

We need the NZEI to stand up for us and our students and be prepared to help us get the parents on side.

It looks as if our NZEI has lost its teeth.

Unions are so important; they need to represent and present – galvanise support and be prepared to go the distance.

The whole point of paid union meetings being in school time was to acknowledge that teachers needed time to discuss issues in an open forum.

We now have these in our non-contact time as a norm. We do not want to disrupt our pupils and their families, but our time is very precious too and it is time we use to support the learning of the students.

A meeting should be about discussion and a level presentation of the alternative and a chance to validate how we are feeling.

I resent being stood over as I consider my vote and being asked for it before I was ready; there was an assumption that there was nothing to consider.

Teachers are too tired to fight; they can barely meet the demands of their jobs.

In 10 years of teaching in New Zealand and after 27 years in the profession I love, I am seeing more newly qualified teachers become disillusioned after a few years, and excellent high quality teachers considering their future in the profession.

Teacher burnout is a huge issue. The union needs to study it, help us present evidence, and to assist the fight to stop it.

Sorry for the rant.


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29 Responses to NZEI member says union has lost its teeth and is back to pressuring members

  1. This is not a rant, it is the voice from the chalkface, from a teacher trying to do her job. My wish is that every teacher who is experiencing the same things takes courage from this and tells their story. Fear is keeping too many silent.

    • Ellie Mackwood says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more, and have raised many of the same concerns with those around me who have openly said that it was the way that NZEI presented the agreement to us that made them vote the way that they did – they simply didn’t think there was anything else we could do, and were scared to vote against it because “they’ve told us this is the best we can get out of a National Government and if we don’t accept it, we loose it all”. My question back to them is “So what? What part of this agreement do you really feel genuinely addresses the needs of teachers and learners at this time?” The there is the same lull of silence.

      What frustrates me the most is when you make these comments, NZEI representatives and supporters are very quick to jump in and remind us it is not an “us and them situation. We as teachers, are the union. If you are not happy then you need to be more involved”. We, the same teachers who are already working 60+ hours a week (and rising) ensuring that our students are getting the best education we can provide, while for NZEI, this IS their paid job.

      When I think back to the negotiations that took place at the beginning of my teaching career, in the early 2000’s – NZEI were a bull to be reckoned with. They knew what mattered to teachers, had their fingers on the pulse and they fought for it, and for us. Interestingly, social media was no where near as prevalent as today, and in reality only a very few teachers attended the regular NZEI union meetings then – yet those who worked for NZEI, for us, made an effort to really know what was going on for teachers. Sadly, each negotiation since that time has been watered down – to the agreement that we voted on last week. For me, the result is not a surprise, but it did mark another significant shift in Education and sends the message that those very areas we have identified as causing concern for teachers and learners, simply don’t matter at this time.

  2. Karen Young says:

    Totally agree!

  3. Not sure Ilike the headline attached to this-the word bullying is very loaded and not one I used deliberately.
    I feel a little overwhelmed at the discussion my post prompted. I just felt concerned that people were so low around me and had no voice.

    I do not doubt that the reps out there are working as hard as possible to achieve something positive, but the nature of our meetings and our role within them has changed.
    Our own school rep is amazing and efficient, doing her best. However the atmosphere in the meetings is not as it was. Meetings that allow us to express anxieties, securely and without fear are what we used to have, and alternative actions to acceptance.
    We need this again.
    It has been hard to say what I said ,as I know the power of unity. But I also know the dangers of not allowing members to have open and timely discussions, and pushing through measures in the way that is happening. I understand the huge pressure our Reps are under.
    I know some people are losing confidence in the Union in some places and I want to reverse that, not make it worse.

    I considered deleting the post but I also believe that it is no good grumbling under my breath.
    I grew up under Thatcherism, when the power of Trade Unions was destroyed in the UK, I know the danger for our union of what is happening in the current climate. I stood on picket lines and fought hard for what I believed was right. I watched as the power of Unions was eroded. I have been a Union member since my teens.
    I understand the Union is fighting to keep us at a negotiating table. The political climate is highly negative.

    I believe in Trade Unions, without ours we have no political voice, but I am concerned about the direction ours is heading in. The time pressure within the meeting negates discussion too, as does their timing in the day. I want to be 100% behind my union, but there needs to be a change of atmosphere.
    Disunity occurs when a union fails to recognise the mood of its members, a union fails to recognise the mood of its members when it doesn’t encourage frank discussion. Unions also fail if apathy prevails amongst its members. We can reverse that now before it is too late.

    I know the Union has a very difficult job and our Reps need our support, but we need to be able to express our anxieties and I mean no disrespect to any individual Reps. We are in this together.
    I think apathy is a bigger danger than my post.

    I believe we need to be prepared to fight for political change, and not accept what is happening.
    The way we get our ‘united message’ across is crucial, the current situation politically makes that a huge challenge and we may not win, but we have to try for the next generation of teachers and children.
    I am only one voice, but when I join with others, our voices will be heard, even if our voices fail to bring the changes we want; it is worse to remain silent, accepting what is done without question.
    Go well my colleagues. I hope your day allows you to spend time with those you love, and recharges you for the week ahead.

  4. Kelvin says:

    Thanks Carrie – people should interpret my heading and all Comments made with your caution in mind. What you wrote was written sincerely and with the interests of children and teachers, and NZEI, uppermost. That is powerfully and effectively obvious.

  5. Alister McCosh says:

    I have been saying the same things for a number of years. The leadership of NZEI, by its actions or lack of them, is complicit in the dismantling of our quality public education system. Bullying is exactly what they do, shutting down or fobbing off dissent.I have been a member of NZEI for over forty years and I have never known them to be so weak and irrelevant.

  6. John Reuben says:

    Very powerful post and sums up what many of us are feeling. As I see it the members are being told to accept terms and conditions which in many cases we didnt even ask for.

    – Mileage claim has gone up… A cost to boards not to ministry (so many teachers, conscious of costs, don’t even claim full rates already). Did anyone really ask for this increase?
    – 2% base increase… What’s the increase to costs of living and owning a house in Auckland or Queenstown likely to be over the same period?
    – one release day in literacy… Literally no one asked for this…but we’ve been told it’s a sign of progress.

    Ellie’s comment is bang on – NZEI stop moaning that it’s up to members to get involved. We pay you to hold those roles and to advocate on our behalf. We are too busy actually doing the work to get involved that’s what we pay you for. On one hand “trust your reps”, on the other we are getting nothing we want. “It’s a tough negotiating environment” – yes it is … So do we have top notch professional negotiators at the table, or well meaning teachers out of their depth trying to get us a decent deal?

    NZEI If you don’t have a grasp of the issues that REALLY matter to teachers then you need to look at why you don’t. Stop work meetings in 2016?? Ever heard of online communications??

    While I’m raving… It’s always annoyed me that terms and conditions are generally not sent out ahead of meetings…they are put on the table when we arrive…why not gather feedback by sending out earlier… It’s as if the tactic is designed to get compliance and sign off without any genuine or critical thought.

    • Brigid says:

      To answer a few of John’s questions. 1.The group of NZEI members that have in been pushing for an increase in the mileage allowance are RTLBs and other resource teachers that use their own cars. They will not be happy with the mileage increase either because it is not near as much as they wanted. However, because NZEI negotiations
      3. Who are these NZEI reps being discussed/dissed? Do you mean the paid NZEI field officers, or the unpaid worksite, branch, negotiation team reps (the only reps that I know of) who do the work they do on top of their teaching workload without any extra pay or time off to do the work on your behalf.
      fall in the bargaining calendar after
      PPTA and Area Schools the Ministry
      would not budge and would only agree
      to the same increase as in those
      settlements. We negotiated for a shorter
      collective contract term so that it will
      be NZEI going first into negotiations
      next time.
      2. NZEI sent out details of the settlement via email before the round of ratification meetings commenced. If you didn’t get the email check that you have supplied NZEI with your current email address or ask your worksite rep to forward NZEI emails on to you.But don’t blame NZEI for you not getting and reading the information before the ratification meeting.

  7. disillusioned principal says:

    I too am frustrated with what I perceive to be happening. I have been a member of the union for 25 years. in my early days I went on strike with my colleagues to fight for the things that mattered. I am tired of being told ‘we need to stay in the tent’ to have a voice. We have a voice. There are thousands of is who would be heard if we made a unified call! The ‘staying in the tent’ seems to leave us stomped all over with the hope of things improving down the track. It’s like the frog in hot water anecdote. (Yes, I know it’s inaccurate but it demonstrates my point). A frog will jump out of hot water but will stay in cold water as the water is heated. At what point will we finally perceive the danger and take some action? So much of this governments plans are no good for kids, teachers or education. I am looking for strong leadership from our union.

    • I agree. When I was Wellington Primary Art Adviser we were instructed to only voice MOE views, not our professional opinion. New Zealander educators have been gagged and it is very unhealthy for NZ education and our students. Let’s all have the courage to speak up. It matters.

    • Matt Schmidt says:

      I, too, am a disillusioned Principal. As a teaching Principal in a 2 teacher, U1 school I have never been as stressed, overworked, emotionally fragile and tired as I currently am. I stood up to my NZEI reps (Teachr and Principal) about how I’m feeling and my disgust in how teaching Principals were brushed aside in the latest Principal negotiations and that I didn’t feel my union represented me in any way, shape or form as either a teacher or a Principal. Got the same stock, standard lines as everybody else and told “not to leave the union, we need to find a way for people like you to tell your story and be heard”….yeah right! I’m only still here because I love my kids and I love my community, but somethings going to give soon!

  8. Kelvin says:

    My interpretation is that it is the paid NZEI officers that often cause resentment.

    And the frustration is not in the ‘small’ issues that are continually being negotiated with the ministry but the failure to bring up and put up a fight on the big ones – the ones that matter to children and teachers in classrooms. Those big ones have been made clear in correspondence and comment in the posting under current attention.

  9. 111peggyb says:

    Hello Kelvin,

    Your post and the heart felt responses has touch a raw nerve for many! As an education veteran of 37 years I have never before seen our profession in such crisis. What happened to the education unions of the 1980s who struck fear and trepidation into the hearts of politicians and policy makers alike?! Gone! Replaced by an army of government sycophants who serve the masters not the workers. I remember Lena Oram and Marian Streep chairing huge PPTA meetings in the 1980s. They and their committed cohort took no prisoners and led the union at a time when teachers were vulnerable to policies like bulk funding and other stupid right wing initiatives. The union, like a good guard dog, saw that thief in the night and ran it off!!

    What do we have now? Excuse the extended metaphor but the thief is back, in broad daylight and sadly our watch dog has had its’ teeth and claws removed – I suppose the dog’s ability to bite and not merely bark was an OSH issue that has been dealt with by the masters!

    The Education profession is peopled by talented, qualified, passionate individuals – all of whom are too worn down by two decades of government compliance requirements and polices that require a 90 hour working week to stand and fight. There is so much that is wrong with our education system at the moment and this has been systematically orchestrated by successive conservative, wealthy politicians who were advantaged by the “right to a free education,” yet refuse to build on the shoulders of that internationally recognised giant. Sylvia Ashton Warner and Marie Clay would weep!!

    How often do you and I have to shout, “Enough is Enough?” before teachers will be sufficiently motivated to rise up and in one voice cry in unison “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

    This culture of differential compliance in education as to be challenged by those of us who can still stand in this last man standing environment!!

    I think we need some fearless leaders Kelvin – where have they all gone?.

  10. Carol says:

    I agree. I hate being told to accept it. I also hate the feeling of being ‘shut down’ for asking too many questions. I am a paid union member and after all, have the right to have my say. I also think each issue should stand alone instead of being bundled together in one vote.

  11. John Carrodus says:

    Unfortunately it appears that the NZEI in it’s attempt to reside “inside the tent”, is now drowning in it’s own uric acid at a faster rate than the government can take the piss out of the teachers.

  12. Paul says:

    From a principals perspective the union is joke right now. Even down to the fact that PUM’s (in the collective) are now staged outside of contact time. When does the union think that teachers do all their planning? No wonder teachers can’t be bothered attending meetings and how out of touch is the union. Why the rush to settle now that sees few meetings in some rural areas? we have already waited for over 6 months. National Standards was a cave in, PaCt to some extent, Col’s certainly (and that after the members sent a clear message rejecting this only to get the policy back renamed but largely unchanged). What next? The Funding review was the key here – the govt wanted things settled so that industrial action cannot follow the review (at least lawfully). If Paul Goulter and his team are that smart why can’t they see this and that any delay in the agreement now is only good in that it reduces the time for more bad policy before the next election. The two year term, if National are elected again (god forbid) sees the next negotiations when they will be at their most emboldened fresh from being relected. And don’t get me started on the future of work stuff – it is clearly a trojan horse for the NZSTA and the Education Council (with the compliant NZEI) to build policy and procedures for ERO to use to ensure compliance with Govt Policy. Sad very sad.

  13. Dana says:

    Well said!! Totally agree. I feel as though I’m paying money to a union who isn’t strong enough to ‘stand up’ for what is important – our children!

  14. Kelvin says:

    The correspondents of this site are producing tactical and strategic gold. The neoliberal text book the government is following with ruthless determination has as its central dogma, the exclusion of teachers from policy development – that is from genesis to implementation. Sometimes a token teacher is allowed, but never one who is an official representative of teachers. Getting official representation must be the target and the only one for NZEI. The mantra must be, opposition to all government policy until full policy representation is restored. And now at the centre of power is the Education Council from which NZEI is excluded – yes there is a token primary teacher, who not incidentally is on the NZEI exec (unbelievable). Of transcendent importance for members to know is that your NZEI president a few weeks ago said she wasn’t worried about the lack of real representation on the Council as NZEI members would vote more teachers on to democratise it. Such is the colossal naivety and absurdity of your president and your executive.

  15. Myles says:

    As someone who sits on the NZEI Principals Council I will make sure that these views are heard loud and clear. I was also disappointed with this outcome and I can tell you that my colleagues in Whangarei overwhelmingly opposed the settlement for Principals Agreement. We expected the same elsewhere but were told that this was not the case. We have a problem in that at a wider level we are not discussing the mood of the nation’s educators before we get to vote. I am sure that if other principal’s around the country heard what the Whangarei Principal’s were saying they too would have rejected it. It is time to stand up for the profession. I also want Pat Newman and Bruce Crawford on the negotiating team.

  16. John H says:

    It is time for NZEI to change its approach, along with its leadership and organisational structures. Expecting teachers to do the Institute’s work whilst paying a high subscription and working 50-60 weeks is a nonsense.

    (1) The national secretary needs to go. Paul Goulter has overseen the demise of a once proud and effective education union. His insistence on ‘organising’ rather than ‘servicing’ has seen the real needs of members pushed into the background, with devastating effect on member well-being.

    (2) The national executive (including and especially the national president) needs to be elected by all NZEI members, and not just the 300 odd who attend the organisation’s annual conference. That a union with a membership of around 46,000 has its national leaders appointed through a closed shop process involving just 300 delegates makes a mockery of any claim to democracy.

    (3) NZEI staff energy and expertise needs to be more directly applied to matters considered by members to be the most worthy, pressing, and urgent. NZEI is not and should not be a political party. It is an association of professionals. It urgently needs to start behaving like one.

  17. Kelvin says:

    Is this the most powerful, informed, and significant post-post series ever on education? I’m elated.

  18. Matt Schmidt says:

    There is a HUGE feeling amongst the profession at the moment that our Union is doing nothing for us and is too busy trying to keep the government and Ministry happy without causing too many ripples. What is the purpose of our union then?! Maybe if more of us voted with our feet they’d wake up and listen to us?

  19. Kelvin says:

    I offer the site to people who want to argue about this issue and about others. It is there for you as a forum. Over 1600 people have clicked in to read about the NZEI issue – is it the start of something? You could help to make it so.

  20. macninz says:

    As I understand it if you pay a sub to NZEI then you are NZEI and have voice in that organisation. So as an observation in regard to Communities of Interest(??) I believe NZEI members rejected this Govt. initiative by an overwhelming 93 % vote yet they continue to spring up all over the country. One would therefore assume there are no NZEI members in any of the school’s affected or that as has historically been the case not all NZEI members sing from the same song sheet. Does this make NZEI head office the guilty party or are there other forces in play only too happy to pander to the Minister and her whims??

    • John H says:

      And therein lies the problem. 93% of members rejected the model that is now being championed by NZEI. Should 93% of members therefore reject NZEI?

      • Matt Schmidt says:

        Yip, I just did. Sent the email this afternoon that as a U1 teaching Principal, I feel that my best interests are not represented by NZEI in either role, so please cancel my membership.

  21. Bruce Hammonds says:

    This post has sure tapped a nerve.

    The last few days I have had the occasion to listen to a conversation between some young teachers based around their dissatisfaction with the demands placed on them – often internal school demands. I also was with a group of principals and picked up from their conversation that many of them are under considerable stress coping with Ministry demands and compliance requirements. Lastly I listened at a social function an educator who told me that I would not be happy with what is going on in many classrooms.

    So all in all it seems all is not well.

    It is at such times teachers need a strong union – not one that folds under pressure and ends up taking scraps and then telling members they need to be thankful to get anything.

    The comments above provide motivation for more courageous leadership. If not it can only get worse.

    And it seems it is time for teachers to get political themseves

  22. Mr Shannon McDougall
    Tokoiti School
    Leman Street

    13 June 2016

    Louise Green
    President NZEI
    P.O. Box 466
    Wellington 6140

    Dear Ms Green

    I have been a member of NZEI since I began teaching in 1999 and it has consistently let me down.

    In 2011 the school that I was Principal was part of a review and was looking at being closed. After carefully looking at the contracts I came to the understanding that there were different clauses depending on if it was a school closure or a part of a network review. I spoke to our field officer who did not know anything about this and referred me to head office in Wellington, who also did not know about this clause. As part of our consultation with the agencies involved, I met with NZEI in Wellington where I had to point out the clause in the contract to them. I had spoken to the Ministry and they eventually agreed with my interpretation of the closure as a network review, but NZEI claimed that they had arranged this.

    After the Minister announced our closure I opted for supernumerary placement. I asked my field officer if I would be able to access the relocation provisions after my year of supernumerary placement and was told that as I had a great track record of negotiating with the Ministry and that I would be better to do this myself. I did and was able to get the Ministry to give me a positive answer to this.

    In November of 2011 I asked the field officer if he could find out exactly what pay I would receive while being supernumerary. I met with him while acting Principal at my supernumerary school in September 2012 and reminded him that I was still waiting for an answer.

    As much as I have tried to keep the faith in my union, the last 12 months have shown that the union is not listening to its members. The variation agreed to last year to allow the Community of Learning to go ahead without it being tied to our pay negotiations was a mistake. We have paid for that mistake in our new agreement. Our contract is backdated to the start of the term, but this neglects the time that was between the end of the last one. This is becoming a habit and is showing the inability of NZEI to negotiate effectively.

    The break in the negotiations to talk about future work party was smoke and mirrors and once again NZEI has failed. The final straw came when I compared what was the mandate given to the negotiation team – payment of the education council fees not to be any part of this and was confirmed in the email dated 12 April 2016 and with the subject Primary Principal’s bargaining update, where it contained the following bullet point “Not having the cost of the practising certificate be part of any settlement.” This has been ignored and by doing so shows the contempt for those who are at the coalface.

    The letter regarding the right to speak up clearly marks the Education Council as the organisation that set our rules, and the Ministry supports that. This does not mean that the Education Council can not or will not make these rules that we will have to follow.

    Last year we met with the Minister of Education and NZEi on the same day to discuss the COL variations, and it was interesting to see the difference in understanding between what the Minister said we had agreed to and what NZEI said. This difference was evident when we spoke to the Ministry after setting up our COL to explore different management structures that was mentioned in the variation and specifically promised at the NZEI meeting. We were told that changes to the management would only happen in a case where there were not the expertise to manage a COL, not what we were told by NZEI, and what we voted for when we accepted the variation.

    Therefore, please accept this letter as formal notification of my resignation from NZEI, effective 4 weeks after the ratification of the Primary Principals’ Collective Agreement as it stands now.

    Yours sincerely
    Shannon McDougall
    Tokoiti School
    cc Graham Jones

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