Pay Equity Win for Teacher Aides in Schools
Linda Jordan, Lead Teacher Aide
What is Pay Equity about?
Pay Equity is about Fairness, being paid the equivalent that a male would be paid in a similar role, hence our theme, Fair’s Fair! It is about correcting the wrong of too many years and finally valuing the work of Teacher Aides as well as valuing the students that we work with.
Since the inception of Teacher Aides as a regular part of the education workforce with Tomorrow's Schools, sadly the base pay rate has always been close to or even at the Minimum Wage. How I ask, does that value the work or the students? Every jump in wages has been hard fought for and then been eroded away until we were back at the minimum wage yet again. After so many different campaigns, Pay Equity removes the bargaining barrier that can come up and allows us to follow a different and definite path.
The Pay Equity Win for Teacher Aides has seen the different sets of work over almost 20 years finally come to fruition. The original piece of work was locked up by the 2007 National Government. The later part of this case that started in December 2016, took almost 4 years from start to finish and included over 20 NZEI teacher aides working alongside The Ministry of Education. The process was lengthy and detailed as it was a new process with many different avenues. Although NZEI has signed off a previous Pay Equity agreement for Education Support Workers, (support staff who do similar work in Early Childhood settings), the role of Teacher Aides in schools was thought to be rather more varied.
Almost 100 schools were chosen at random to ensure there was a good coverage of size, decile, urban and rural. Interviews then took place with a Teacher Aide, Senco (Special Education Needs Coordinator) and Principal to talk about the role in their school. These interviews were conducted by an NZEI member and an employee of The Ministry. This process was very eye-opening for both parties to see what some T/A’s were expected to do. These interviews proved that the job title “Teacher Aide” is certainly a wide and varied role.
Teacher Aides need to be ready for anything. They may work with students on reading; deal with behavioural issues or toileting; help with feeding. They may work with a range of special needs, non-verbal students, and students in wheelchairs or special equipment. They may need to assist with therapy.
“If you want to go to Special School, you must be very strong,
because it’s very demanding,” says a Teacher Aide.
After a rigorous checking process, those interviews were used to build a picture of the role of Teacher Aides across the country. The roles were indeed found to be very detailed and varied. Everything from preparing resources to medical interventions to supervising other staff is included in the role. This took us into the next step that would align us with male-dominated roles.
The process saw us compared to a range of jobs which all required similar skills, working conditions and training. These jobs included corrections officers, border security and school caretaker. This process was lengthy as it included interviews in their work settings, but we had to ensure it was done correctly to gain as much information as possible.
The outcome has given us a new matrix of roles within the title, Teacher Aide. This matrix is being used to ensure everyone will be paid appropriately for the job they perform regularly. At each step it needed to be asked; does it meet the State Services Commission’s Pay Equity principles?
Along with this is a new professional development fund with a budget of just over $2m, as it was agreed that teacher aides did not always receive the Professional Learning and Development they need to undertake their jobs. This is a trial that allows PLD for every teacher aide across the country. It is part of the Career Pathway work for support staff that can lead to specialist roles.
There is work also being done on Fixed Term agreements. They can be used in certain circumstances, but the feeling is that they are being used far too often and are having a detrimental effect on the students and on the workforce. New guidelines have also been put in place allowing variations in a role within any one calendar year. Some teacher aides were finding that their role would be diminished by altering the role, while the school would hire someone else, usually at a lower rate, to do part of their previous role under a different title.
Teacher Aides will finally feel this win when the back pay arrives along with their new pay rates in November. Celebrations will be taking place with pay increases for some being in the $3 - $5 per hour mark now that they are being paid accurately for the work they do. Some of my colleagues have expressed their jubilation in the following words:
I am really excited about the PLD component. I have today applied for funding to attend a course. Can’t wait!
It will certainly take me time to get used to not running out of money before the next pay day.
After decades of being victimised by undervaluation, winning a historic, life changing settlement, we can continue to grow professionally so that our young people have the best outcomes possible.
After over 20 years in the sector I feel we will finally be recognised for the quality we bring to education. No longer when I tell people what I do will they say, "Oh so you are just a teacher aide."
While 2020 has not been a great year in many ways, we can celebrate the win for teacher aides. Work is also moving ahead for our administration colleagues, with further cases on their way. NZEI Te Riu Roa are working to put more resources into getting these cases moving. For far too long wage theft has been allowed to be used as the norm.