Teachers told to foot bill for relievers

SUSAN HORNSBY-GELUK: It's up to the school to provide relief staffing in this instance.
SUSAN HORNSBY-GELUK: It's up to the school to provide relief staffing in this instance.

Teachers at a Wellington primary school were told they had to pay for relieving teachers out of their own pockets in order to attend a paid union meeting.

St Teresa's School staff say they have been left feeling upset, angry and undervalued after their board of trustees told them they were inconveniencing parents and pupils by attending yesterday's meeting of the New Zealand Educational Institute.

The Karori Catholic school's stance led two board members to quit, the teachers say.

The union meeting at the Michael Fowler Centre was one of a series held around the country to discuss teachers' collective agreement negotiations with the Education Ministry.

A staff member at the state- integrated school said teachers there had not been to a paid union meeting since 2007, and it was not too much to ask for eight teachers to attend.

NZEI national secretary Paul Goulter said asking teachers to pay for relievers was an "inappropriate" practice that he had never heard of before.

The staff member said: "Staff just feel upset, angry and undervalued. Teachers work many hours outside what they're required to work.

"We just didn't feel like we were asking too much, then to have it thrown back in our faces that we were putting ourselves before parents and students . . . we're there because we care."

They were told not to attend the meeting because it was inconvenient for parents to have to pick their children up early. If they insisted, the school would not pay for relievers, the teachers say they were told.

The staff member said "it all feels very political", particularly as the chairman of the board of trustees was National MP Nathan Guy's brother, Christopher.

Christopher Guy did not return calls from The Dominion Post last night. No other board members contacted would comment.

The entire staff, except for one teacher aide, are believed to be union members. For the 11/2-hour meeting, it would have cost teachers about $80 each for relievers.

However, enough relievers sympathised with their plight that they stood in voluntarily, and only one other teacher had to be paid.

Mr Goulter said teachers had no obligation to provide relievers in order to attend paid union meetings.

"We would be extremely disappointed, because it is a legal right of the employee to attend meetings like today, and they are paid union meetings."

The 1354 teachers at the Wellington meeting voted unanimously to reject the ministry's collective proposal, in line with the rest of the country, he said.

Employment law expert Susan Hornsby-Geluk said employees were entitled to attend two two-hour union meetings a year, as long as the employer was given 14 days' notice. Then it was up to the school, in this case, to provide relief staffing.

"The fact that these are stat entitlements means that the employer has to make accommodations unless it's impossible."

Contact Jody O'Callaghan
Education reporter
Email: jody.o'callaghan@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @miss_jodyo

The Dominion Post