Inflation reaching its highest level in more than 30 years is another damaging blow for workers and could only exacerbate the critical teaching shortage facing the country, NZEI Te Riu Roa’s President Liam Rutherford has said.
Last week, the annual rate of inflation surged to 5.9 percent; a peak not seen since 1990, while Retail NZ said earlier today (Monday) it now expects prices to rise by more than 7.5 percent over the next three months.
“It’s tremendously disheartening,” Mr Rutherford said. “We already know that many workers across the country including teachers and support staff across our schools, kura and early childhood centres are battling to pay their mortgage or rent and put food on the table.
“It’s also a concern for many of our parents – who are also battling with the uncertainty of the pandemic.”
Many economists are projecting inflation to remain at high levels and interest rates to rise this year, which will just put more pressure on people like Wellington Early Childhood Education kaiako Chloe Lundie-Hodge.
“The cost of living is just going up and up and I’m living payday to payday,” Lundie-Hodge said. “I’m lucky that after I raided my Kiwisaver I was able to buy a very small flat four years ago, but I honestly don’t earn enough to have a sustainable lifestyle.”
The 31-year-old Lundie-Hodge has a teaching degree, “multiple” other qualifications and has been an early childhood teacher for 12 years but said their gross salary was only about $60,000 and “stagnant”.
“I think after tax and everything that’s about $45,000, but I am making very conscious decisions on what I spend and what I’m buying in terms of groceries,” they said.
“I don’t buy luxuries. It’s a very needs-based life.”
Lundie-Hodge said while some of their colleagues had received pay rises from 1 January under the pay-parity negotiated by NZEI TE Riu Roa, because of their career experience, they were above the steps covered by the agreement.
“I think I’m getting 15 to 20-thousand less than what I would have done if I’d gone into primary teaching,” they said. “We need to get pay parity across the entire sector and for the funding model to change.”
Lundie-Hodge said it was getting to the point where they were considering their future and that was concerning for the sector, which cannot afford to lose teachers of their experience.
“There is a real teacher shortage. We want well trained, good quality teachers, but I’m worried about the future if people like me have to walk away,” they said.
Mr Rutherford said the current economic trends made it even more imperative that NZEI Te Riu Roa continues its fight for universal pay parity for early childhood teachers and additional funding in the Budget for more primary teachers and support for principals and school leaders.
“The half-year figures Treasury released just before Christmas showed stronger than expected economic projections despite the pandemic,” Mr Rutherford said.
“But it was interesting the Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, did not specifically mention education as a priority for the Budget.
“We will be continuing to ask the Government about that as we go forward.”