Teachers more valued than support staff, say workers

Last updated 15:37 20/03/2017

School support staff, from left, Fiona Ransfield, Shelley Karaka and Julie Mitchell, who all want better pay conditions.

Close to 50 support staff joined in the march from Hamilton East School to MP David Bennett's office on Grey Street on Thursday.

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Teacher aides, librarians and learning assistants are at the bottom of the educational food chain, says a support worker.

And with the government freezing operational funding - the money used to pay support workers - it means vulnerable children will also miss out.

Fairfield College learning support assistant Carol Webb says the operational fund is used to pay school resources, maintenance, utilities, internet and IT staff and support workers.

She wants secure pay conditions.

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"I feel angry and disrespected," she said.

"Kids would slip through the cracks without us, but we're always the first to go if there are any budget cuts.

"We had a meeting with other support workers and one worker told us they had to choose between getting a pay cut or a colleague losing their job.

"They were a small, tight-knit team, so they all decided that they would take the cut. But they dreaded having to make the same decision again because it would more than likely be a different outcome."

The Government decided to freeze operational funding as part of its budget announcement in May last year and has replaced it with targeted funding.

Schools will get $92 in extra funding for each student from a long-term welfare-dependent background.

That means more than $43 million will be poured into schools over four years for 150,000 underachieving students.

However, the change means 1300 schools will be worse off.

"Support staff are only paid for 40 weeks a year, as they are not paid for school holidays, like teachers. And some only have contracts for the school term.

"It's untenable."

Webb, who is part of NZEI Te Riu Roa, the teachers' union, says the targeted funding has complicated ongoing collective agreement negotiations between the union and the Ministry of Education. There have been organised meetings nationwide to discuss pay conditions.

The union is asking for a 2 per cent pay increase, which is in line with teachers. The minimum pay for a support worker is minimum wage, with the those at the top of the pay scale receiving just over $20 an hour.

"This places great stress on boards because they struggle enough as it is," Webb said.

"The goal [is] to ensure children would not lose that support permanently."

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