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Primary staff win battle for pay equality

New Zealand. Salaries will now be the same as for secondary schools. Sarah Catherall reports

New Zealand primary teachers have won equal pay with their secondary colleagues in an historic pay settlement which boosts their wages by an average of 11 per cent.

After four years of battling with the government for parity with secondary teachers, the country's 16,500 primary teachers have been handed annual pay increases of $3,626 (pound;1,295) on average, backdated to February 1.

The award comes at a time when the underlying inflation rate is 2 per cent, but the Government is having to plough pound;10 million into a campaign to encourage more New Zealanders to take up teaching and to coax recruits from Britain, Canada, South Africa and Australia.

The pay settlement means that any pay rises won by secondary teachers, who are on a separate employment contract, will be passed on to primary teachers.

The salary of an experienced teacher with a degree at the top of the basic pay scale (a teacher without any additional responsibilities) rises from $41,860 to $47,100 (pound;14,950 to pound;16,821). Primary headteachers and assistant and deputy heads also get an average pay rise of 13.9 per cent, or $6,320.

The pay settlement brings to an end 21 months of intense pay negotiations, triggered by a consultancy report in 1994 which found that the jobs of primary and secondary teachers were comparable and they should be paid the same.

But in return for parity, the $254 million pay deal means that primary teachers will have to convince boards of trustees (the equivalent of governing boards in the UK) that their performance meets new professional standards. Those who do not will not be eligible for annual pay rises.

For primary heads the trade-off for the pay rise means those already in schools may have to sign eight-year contracts with school boards, while new heads may have to sign five-year contracts. They have yet to ratify the pay deal.

But the teachers' union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, fought fixed contracts out of fears that the contract negotiation round could disrupt schools, putting boards and headteachers into long and acrimonious negotiations when contracts come up for renewal.

The education minister, Wyatt Creech, said the new unified pay stems for primary and secondary teachers was an "historic agreement".

Pay equality has been opposed by secondary teachers in the past, as their union, the Post Primary Teachers Association, fears it will be used to drive down pay rates.

It is expected to announced strike plans over its own pay claim for a 12.5 per cent pay rise which, if won, would also be passed to primary teachers.

Secondary teachers are seeking a pay rise from the current basic salary bracket of $27,000-$47,100 to $33,000-$55,000.

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