WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of New Zealand teachers walked off the job on Wednesday, a day before the government announced its ‘wellbeing’ budget, calling for higher pay and shorter hours in the country’s largest ever education strike.
Almost 50,000 secondary and primary school teachers joined the strike, according to their unions, closing schools around the nation.
The strike came a day before Jacinda Ardern’s government was set to release its first ‘Wellbeing’ budget, which had been touted globally as a new approach to fiscal decision-making guided by a broader range of indicators to improve New Zealanders’ living standards.
Unions working on behalf of teachers have been negotiating with the government for months for pay rises and measures to reduce workloads, but so far have ended in deadlock.
“The offers we have received from the government have not addressed the issues our profession is facing. They will not turn around the crisis in education that is looming,” said Lynda Stuart, the president of teachers’ union NZEI Te Riu Roa, in a statement when the strike was announced earlier this month.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said earlier this month when the strikes were announced that the extra NZ$1.2 billion ($784.80 million) over four years in pay rises on offer was the “biggest offer teachers have had in a decade” and told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday there was no more money for teachers’ pay in this year’s budget.
The strike spotlights the difficulties Ardern’s government faces in delivering on its promise to pour money into social services and rein in economic inequality when it took office in 2017.
The center-left government’s traditional union support base says sluggish wage growth and soaring living costs have left workers struggling, with junior doctors, nurses and court officials taking action in the past year to demand pay hikes.
The government on Tuesday was also grappling said it was “hacked” following the early release of some budget information by the opposition National Party. The Finance Minister said not all the details in the information was correct. Police were investigating and the National Party denied involvement in any illegal activity.
($1 = 1.5291 New Zealand dollars)
Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by James Dalgleish