More than 100 people work in the Ashburton District’s classrooms with some of their school’s most vulnerable students, but more than 80 per cent of them earn less than a living wage.
On top of that at least half of the district’s teacher aides have no job security from year to year and can find their hours cut if schools run out of money.
But this year with their collective wage bargaining, those teacher aides are determined things will change.
They want a decent pay increase that recognises the work they do, they want job security and they want pay parity between men and women.
In classrooms, a teacher aide is often the person who plays a significant role in the learning outcome for challenged students, but their work was under-rated and under recognised in terms of pay and conditions, Ashburton branch secretary Cezarne Rodgers said.
Currently 72 per cent of the district’s teacher aides fall into a pay band that ranges from $17.70 to $20.69 per hour.
New Zealand’s current living wage is $21.15.
“Education is becoming more complex and more and more of us are required to help out and help students learn.
“We know how important we are to schools.
“Our aim is to achieve high outcomes for students,” she said.
Currently the government has offered a 1.8 per cent increase.
When you’re already at the bottom, that’s clearly not enough to recognise the value of the work teacher aides do, Rodgers said.
Teacher aides are paid out of a school’s operations budget and that means they’re competing for pay packets out of a relatively small pot of money.
If the money runs out their hours are cut.
They are paid only for the hours they work, which at best could mean around 40 weeks pay a year.
At least half of those attending a meeting at Hampstead School yesterday do not have fixed contracts and that means no guaranteed work next year for the rest.
“Job security is a huge issue, but if we can get centralised funding it will give us that job security,” she said.
Many of the teacher aides at the meeting had long service with their schools.
One said she’d been in her job for 14 years and received the same pay rate as someone who was just starting work.
Another said she had logged 23 years service and was still on less than a basic wage.
“Imagine what would happen if we went on strike.
“Our schools would stop,” she said.
Rodgers said she worked 15 hours per week and was only able to afford to carry on with her job because she had a partner who was working.
The job was almost impossible for anyone who was the only earner because of the low pay rates, the uncertainty of hours and the lack of pay during school holidays.
The school funding system was broken and it had to be fixed urgently, it failed to deliver certainty for schools and secure and fairly paid work for support staff, she said.
The goal was to have negotiations satisfactorily wrapped up by the end of the year, with teacher aides finally receiving pay rats that recognised their skills and abilities, Rodgers said.
“Government funding is essential to make this happen and schools must be resourced properly to pay support staff fairly, ensure secure employment and provide high quality learning support.”
– By Sue Newman