Canterbury teachers vote for 'unlawful' strike

SUPPORT: Teachers show their support for combined action before the actual vote took place yesterday.
SUPPORT: Teachers show their support for combined action before the actual vote took place yesterday.

A teachers' strike against the Government's proposed education shake-up in Christchurch is unlikely to go ahead, says a law specialist.

Geoff Bevan, a lawyer specialising in employment law, told Radio New Zealand this morning it was likely the Ministry of Education would go to the Employment Court and seek an injunction to prevent the strike.

He believed it would be granted.

Bevan said if the teachers did strike they could be held liable for any losses.

"When you strike you're breaking an employment contract. If you're employer breaks a contract they're liable to pay for the loss they caused their employer. The union can also be liable for the loss."

However he did not think the ministry would pursue that path.

"Suing teachers or firing them isn't going to solve the situation in Christchurch.

"The most likely consequence is that the ministry will go to the Employment Court and seek an injunction stopping the strike," he said.


Over 1000 teachers and administration staff from throughout the greater Christchurch region attended a meeting in Addington yesterday to consider strike action in protest at the proposed overhaul of the region's schools.

Members of the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) yesterday voted overwhelming to strike on February 19, the day after Education Minister Hekia Parata delivers her final decisions about closures and mergers of affected schools.

The NZEI called the meeting because of its concerns over the Government's decision to close or merge 39 schools.

Of the 846 who voted, 520 wanted strike action in February, with only 143 voting against industrial action altogether.

After the vote, NZEI president Ian Leckie said the Government's plans "aren't acceptable".

"The huge majority have said quite clearly that this process is flawed, and quite clearly the actions that are going to be taken need to be reconsidered. They [the ministry] need to stop and start again. This is a very clear message to the Government and to the minister."

The country's largest education union felt there was a lack of consultation over the Education Ministry's proposals and an unrealistic timeframe imposed on schools to respond.

Teachers' feelings were so strong, they had agreed to participate in an "unlawful strike", Leckie said.

Strike action is only legal if workers refuse to work because of collective agreement disputes.

"It is unusual, but what they're saying is that up until now our voices haven't been listened to and what do we need to do to be heard," he said after the meeting.

Leckie said it was up to Parata to stop the strike.

"Right now the ball is in the minister's court."

During the meeting, teacher John Leadbetter, of Parkview School, which was unaffected by the shake-up, said the Government's plans would have a detrimental effect on Canterbury education.

"The ministry has no respect for us. And they certainly didn't respect the schools in Christchurch.
"They decided to use us as guinea pigs, when we've been through so much. Well guess what, I'm not a guinea pig and my school isn't a guinea pig."

After the meeting, teacher Dave Harrison of the unaffected Somerfield school said "the important thing is that the message is sent".

"We all understand that change is part of our everyday life now so we're not fighting against change, we're fighting against the process. We are the people that have probably got the least energy in the country at the moment to fight, but it's got to start somewhere."

This week, the ministry said NZEI had not approached it with any specific concerns about the information provided as part of its plans for Christchurch.

"The data used in formulating the proposals is robust," a spokesman said.

While the ministry admitted there had been some errors, he said: "In every case where an inaccuracy has been raised by schools, the ministry has investigated and clarified or updated it as appropriate.

"All of the information has been provided to schools in good faith, based on the best information available at the time."

The Press