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Teachers Strike Action Boosts Kindergarten Finances

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Teachers Strike Action Boosts Kindergarten Finances.
Dr Sarah Alexander.
April 3, 2023.

OPINION: There is an issue related to the recent teachers strike, that so far has escaped scrutiny.

When teachers employed by kindergarten associations went on strike on 16 March most did not get paid.

This is the established custom for industrial action when workers withdraw their labour and are not doing productive work.  Businesses are often forced to reduce their operation or close through lack of staff and therefore lose significant revenue during a strike. 

But did kindergarten associations lose significant revenue if closed due to the strike? Here is an outline of the situation. 

child at kindergarten

The Ministry of Education’s funding handbook states that emergency closure funding can only be provided to early childhood education (ECE) services experiencing emergency conditions such as extreme weather, and not due to non-emergency events such as head teacher absence or lack of staff.

Strike action causes a lack of staff so funding should not be given according to the rules. Remember that striking staff are not paid by their employer. Most or all funding a centre receives is spent on staff pay.

But Education Minister Jan Tinetti made an exception so there would be no loss of Ministry funding to kindergarten associations for their centres on 16 March.

The Minister’s decision to allow kindergarten associations to be funded during the period of the strike meant that associations enjoyed the same level of revenue from funding but considerably lower expenses as they didn’t have to pay striking staff – a boost to profit.

Has a precedent been established which then leads us to ask?

  1. Will the Government fund ECE centres other than those owned by Kindergarten Associations to close when there is another teacher strike so their staff can go out in support of kindergarten colleague pay claims that will also flow on to them?   (It’s an issue of solidarity for ECE teachers) 
  2. Will the Minister also grant an exception to emergency funding rules for services party to other teacher collective agreements in the early childhood sector? 
  3. Will the government be as happy to fund the ongoing costs for, and provide a financial benefit, to other businesses that are not ECE services that experience worker strikes? 

Journalists could have fun looking into the precedent this may have established.

It will be interesting to see what advice the Ministry of Education gave to the Minister.

Did the Minister believe she was granting an exemption to kindergarten associations only for “kindergartens” or inclusive of all ECE centres that are part of kindergarten associations?  (Ignoring the fact that today a kindergarten is fundamentally no different to other teacher-led centres except that the subsidy rate amounts the Ministry pays to it are higher than the rates it sets for other centres – view the Pay Parity campaign book published in 2019 at the start of the campaign). 

I asked the Ministry this question: “will any other ECE or early learning centres under the control of a kindergarten association continue to be funded for today if closed due to lack of staff?”. The Ministry replied: “all services that are part of these Kindergarten Associations who are closed due to lack of staff employed under the KTCA will be funded for Thursday 16 March.”

I think also there are questions over the use of public funds and what, if any, checks on Kindergarten Association funding claims the Ministry of Education does. 

For example, I heard that at one of the largest kindergarten associations parents were informed that all centres would be closed to children for the day of industrial action, yet some of its kindergartens did not have teachers who were NZEI members and some of its kindergartens had only one or two teachers who were striking. 

Why didn’t every kindergarten association do everything possible to keep their centres open for children, (e.g., contact recruitment agencies to supply relief teachers, call on teachers on parental and study leave if they could come to work for the day, and ask parents to come in and parent-help to support the kindergarten programme and staff?)

I’ve also heard that another kindergarten association paid those of its staff who went on strike – so if this is true and I have no reason yet to believe it’s not true, then it means that the Minister’s decision gave the striking teachers an additional paid holiday.

In response to the strike action Minister Tinetti said, “I know that we have to do better and I commit to you we will do better”. 

So, does the Minister want to be better at boosting kindergarten association profits as on this occasion, or will the Minister aim for something more important? 

Something more important would be to put all education and care centres back on the same funding rates as kindergartens, thereby enabling full pay parity with teachers in primary schools for all ECE centre teachers and not just those in the employment of kindergarten associations.

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