Opinion: The pay-talk discussions and the wider impacts

We have noticed the news coverage that primary school teachers are seeking a 16% increase in pay. And, that got me thinking about the domino affect such an increase might have for all staff in early childhood education (ECE). Why ECE I hear you ask?

It concerns the Kindergarten Collective Employment Agreement, the Government and simple economics.

As we know, teachers working in kindergartens in ECE are employed under the single Kindergarten Collective. By law, they are also employed under the State Sector Act. Because of that, the parties to the Kindergarten Collective and the Teacher's Union (NZEI) and the Government. Kindergarten Associations, all 30-odd of them, are innocent by-standers to the spectacle.

So, if NZEI and the Government enter into Collective re-negotiations (which will follow settlement of the Primary Teacher's Collective) and agree to a pay increase, the Government is honour-bound to give more money to the Kindy Associations to fund the pay increase. See how it works?

A specific clause in the Kindy Collective requires that Kindy teachers are paid on par with their Primary School colleagues. Hence the connection between Primary and ECE. So, if Primary Teachers are seeking a 16% increase in pay, Kindy Teachers may also be in-line for the same.

So why should that concern the wider ECE sector and, in particular, childcare centres? Let's take a look back to pre-2011. Before the last National government came into power and before the Global Economic Crisis that contributed to the funding cuts we endured in 2011, the government used to top up our subsidy rate by a level that corresponded to any increase agreed with the Kindy Collective. That ensured some level of parity across the teacher-led ECE sector. So teachers doing the same job could reasonably expect to be paid roughly the same.

In 2011 that stopped.

While the Early Childhood Council advocated for the reintroduction of that top up, the then Minister of Education claimed that there was no guarantee that any top up given would actually go toward teacher wages. Of course, there was no evidence it would not; but an effective fear strategy proposed by the Ministry of Education ensured that the Government did not have to pay the top up. What we called a "funding cut by stealth", because while we felt it, the cut was invisible to parents.

Since 2011, Kindy teachers have enjoyed three pay increases: 4%, 4% and 0.38%. None of these have been passed on to childcare centres in the form of a top up. And yet, all ECE operates under the national curriculum Te Whaariki, and qualified ECE teachers, whether they work in centres or Kindy, all do the same job and have very similar job descriptions. You will recall that the two funding increases we received since 2011 were both 2.5% applied to non-wage-related costs - equivalent to 0.83% in real terms. And that was applied to all ECE services, so Kindies got it too.

This brings us to the present day. We have a new Labour-led Government in place and they say they want to have more equality and fairness in education and barrier free access for all. We have promises to restore pay parity (as much as is possible) across teacher-led services. The teacher union has called for a 16% increase. They won't get it, of course - it's the first salvo in the renegotiation process.

But be aware that whatever settlement is finally agreed, it will set up expectations from all teachers for a similar increase. Worst case scenario - Primary (and therefore Kindy) teacher pay rates increase but there is no additional funding for childcare centres to increase their teacher's pay rates. Ouch!

And, it doesn't just stop there. As teacher pay rates increase, those other roles working in schools and centres around the country will expect a similar increase. Admin staff. Teacher aides. Education Support Workers. Cooks. Maintenance people.

We will be watching the Government's Budget very closely, as we will be watching the Primary Collective re-negotiations closely. We will be watching for evidence that childcare and education centres are being treated fairly and not commercially disadvantaged - because at the end of the day that hits kids.

We will be keeping our ECC members informed, including hosting an ECC-Rubiix Lunch'n'Learn Webinar for members the day following Budget Day to summarise the Budget and its impact on ECE services: Go here for details. And, we will host a special workshop at our forthcoming conference in Auckland to focus on the Budget, its impact on centres and the coping options for centres: Go here for more about our conference.

The ECC thinks early childhood education matters and the way we treat our centres owners and managers, governance committees, and teachers, directly feeds into the learning outcomes for this country's' littlest citizens.

Peter Reynolds

Chief Executive Officer, Early Childhood Council