Union meetings hit schools

A series of paid union meetings for primary teachers next week will mean some Nelson pupils will get an afternoon off, in what some principals have described as an unnecessary and disruptive move.

The New Zealand Educational Institute is holding a series of paid union meetings at schools around the country over the next two weeks.

The meetings are to discuss the latest round of pay negotiations with the Ministry of Education, as well as other issues affecting teachers such as national standards and the prospect of performance pay.

One meeting was held on Thursday at Birchwood School, and others are scheduled for Nelson Central School and Hampden Street School on Monday, and Richmond Primary School on Tuesday. In the first meeting, union members voted to reject the ministry's pay offer.

But Henley School principal John Armstrong said there was no need to have the meetings during school time, and holding the meetings between 3.30pm and 5pm would have worked better. "It's really just penalising the students."

"It's a massive loss of goodwill with the parent community and I really think it's the union flexing its muscles unnecessarily."

Waimea Intermediate School principal Cleve Shearer said the move was a big frustration for schools.

He said he was a strong supporter of the union.

"But I think holding those meetings in school time at very short notice without clear information about the content and form of the meeting is bad form."

Schools were caught between the obligation to stay open for instruction and make sure the children were well catered-for, and the obligation to allow union members to hold meetings.

"For us to have half the school full of relievers would be impossible."

The school had sent out a letter asking parents to pick their children up, rather than leaving them at a half-empty school, but in some cases it would be disruptive, he said.

But NZEI Nelson representative Nigel Jones said the teachers had a right to attend their meetings.

Previously the union had held the meetings outside school time in an attempt to please the community, but it was felt that the union had not made its point adequately so the negotiating team had decided to take the meetings during school hours.

Some schools had staggered which meetings staff attended in an attempt to minimise the impact on schools, he said.

The Nelson Mail