8 August 2019
If all early childhood teachers share a common vision – pay parity – articulate, agitate and organise, lobby and campaign – spread the word – then collectively we’ll achieve our goal. (NZEI1)
This paper looks at pay parity and pay equity as they apply to early childhood teachers. It is noted that NZEI, the union that represents pre-secondary teachers, has achieved and safeguarded pay parity for teachers working in kindergartens but is only pressing for pay equity for non-kindergarten teachers.
Pay parity puts people on a par, on the same pay scale. It is simple and inherently fair. It achieves a unified pay scale. Pay equity is the process of eliminating pay gaps based on gender. The paper shows that the current difference between kindergarten and non-kindergarten teacher pay is not founded on a gender difference. It stems from the Ministry of Education believing that it has a ‘special relationship’ with kindergartens and providing more funding to kindergartens than to other pre-school education organisations. There is no legal justification for this ‘special relationship’. Contrary to common belief, kindergarten teachers are not State sector employees.
The Ministry does not make sufficient funding available to allow pay parity. That is the root cause of the pay disparity. A pay equity claim is therefore not appropriate. It is shown that the Ministry, by providing more funds to kindergartens than to other pre-school education organisations, is acting in an unfair, unreasonable and partial manner, which is contrary to the principles of good practice in the public service.
The possible reason for NZEI pursuing pay equity is examined and it is shown that, with the change in government, that reason no longer exists.
The paper identifies that the continued existence of a pay equity claim is likely to result in pay parity never being achieved. Indeed, there is no happy outcome from a potential pay equity settlement.
Having shown that pay parity should be the goal the paper identifies that the Ministry of Education needs to be held to account, and ways to do this are identified. It also identifies that a new funding mechanism will be needed to support the introduction of pay parity.
The paper finishes by specifying six recommendations for further action to resolve this unfair, unreasonable and unjust situation.
Primary teachers have pay parity with secondary teachers and kindergarten teachers have pay parity with primary teachers, yet NZEI are currently advocating for pay equity, rather than pay parity, for early childhood education (ECE) teachers who do not work in kindergartens. Why would they do that? What is the difference?
This short paper will examine:
- the difference between parity and equity,
- why kindergarten teachers are paid more than other, identically qualified, ECE teachers;
- some potential implications of pursuing one or the other, or both in tandem; and
- implications for the funding system for ECE.
Pay parity is where the pay for one group is adjusted to align and be on a par with another comparable group. For example, the primary teachers’ basic pay scale becomes aligned with the secondary teachers’ scale. A unified pay scale is created.
NZEI have fought successfully for pay parity for primary teachers with teachers in secondary schools. They have fought successfully for pay parity for kindergarten teachers with teachers in primary schools. They have proved that teachers in all sectors should be recognised as equivalent, based on shared qualifications and professional standards.
The advantages of pay parity are that:
- It is simple in that pay rates and conditions have already been agreed for one group and just need small adjustments to cater for minor differences between secondary, primary and ECE teachers.
- It is inherently fair in that comparable groups, with comparable qualifications and identical professional standards are kept on a par.
- If a collective employment agreement is involved, prolonged and complex negotiations are not needed each time a collective agreement is renegotiated as the basic pay scale has already been set for the first group.
- It achieves a unified pay scale.
One, perceived, disadvantage of pay parity is that, as a settlement for one group flows through to other groups with parity, it is seen as expensive. This is only because groups have been allowed to become misaligned. Once this misalignment is corrected the financial ‘pain’ of meeting parity obligations will be reduced.
The other perceived disadvantage is that negotiating pay parity is believed, by NZEI at any rate, to not be feasible. We shall see that, if it was, this is no longer the case.
Pay equity is the process of ensuring that pay gaps based on gender are removed. The Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill, which was intended to formalise the promotion of enduring pay equity claims, lapsed on the change in government in 2017. The current government has not chosen to progress this Bill.
The current process is therefore based on legal precedent alone rather than on specific legislation or regulation.
It has been said that the Equal Pay Act can be used as a legal mechanism to achieve pay equity for ECE teachers. This Act very specifically addresses pay discrimination based on gender. With ECE this is not the case. The fact that pay differences are not gender based is examined later in this paper.
The advantage of pay equity is that it provides a process for addressing the under-payment of predominantly female occupations by comparing them with predominantly male occupations requiring similar levels of skill, qualifications and/or effort.
The disadvantages of pay equity are:
- Because the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill lapsed in 2017, pay equity is not a process defined by law.
- It is intended to address pay differences based on gender. It is not intended to address pay differences within an occupational group, such as teachers, where qualifications and professional standards are uniform and gender balances are similar.
- To take the specific case of teachers, if one, predominantly female, group of teachers takes a pay equity case they must be compared with a predominantly male group, and in teaching there is no such group. They must be compared with a different industry, ignoring the fact that comparable (identical in the case of kindergarten) groups of teachers exist.
- By its nature it cannot achieve a unified pay scale, something which used to be a cornerstone of NZEI policy.ii
- A pay equity claim would be an appropriate mechanism for addressing the pay and conditions of unqualified ECE teachers, kaiako in Kohanga Reo and teaching support staff. It does not seem to be the wisest course of action to take today for addressing the pay and conditions of qualified and certificated teachers employed in ECE.
Why the Differences in ECE Pay?
Recognising the natural justice that all qualified teachers should be treated fairly, many years ago NZEI negotiated pay parity for kindergarten teachers. That was when there was a legal difference between kindergartens and other forms of pre-school child care and education. That legal difference no longer exists and there is no definition in law of the word kindergarten.
Today, the reason that qualified non-kindergarten ECE teachers are undervalued and underpaid is an accident of history. There has been no pressure to increase the allocation of funds to ECE and, without additional funding, pay increases are not possible. Most people, and therefore most MPs, see ECE as just glorified child minding and not actually education and so little priority is given to finding additional funding. If all MPs understood the value and benefits of ECE, and gave it commensurate priority for funding, then pay parity for all ECE teachers would follow automatically.
Non-kindergarten ECE teachers have very limited ability to press their case or to exert influence through industrial action.
Non-kindergarten ECE pay is not low because the teachers are largely female - there is a similar gender balance in primary schools and an identical one in kindergartens. If the differences were gender based then primary and kindergarten teachers would be paid much less. They would be paid at the minimum attestation rate for ECE services. Clearly, this is not the case.
Non-kindergarten ECE pay is low due to the unfairness in Ministry funding arrangements. The discrimination is based on the Ministry of Education’s allocating more funding to some ECE employers (‘kindergarten’ associations, whatever they are – they are not defined in law) than to others. The Ministry of Education has said that “kindergarten services have a special relationship with government”.iii It is this ‘special relationship’ rather than gender balance that is responsible for differences in funding, and thus pay scales. There is no legal basis for this position. Kindergarten teachers are not members of the State sector. The State Services Commissioner maintains an up to date list of all the organisations of the State sector.iv That list does not contain any kindergartens or kindergarten associations, free or otherwise. Individuals are State sector employees if they are employed by one of the organisations on the list. As their employers are not on the State Services Commissioner’s list, kindergarten teachers are clearly not State sector employees.
The discrimination in ECE teachers’ pay is not based on gender, but on the Ministry of Education’s partiality and bias in favour of one group of ECE employees (those employed by kindergarten associations) at the expense of other ECE employees. The Ministry is gender neutral in its approach. It is also unfair, unreasonable, partial and in breach of the Auditor General’s principles for good practice in the public service.v
Despite NZEI stating that “NZEI Te Riu Roa has a proud history in working with the community to improve quality in early childhood services, including . . . pay parity with other teachers” (my emphasis)iv, NZEI’s actions are consistent with their position being summarised as:
- Teachers who work in primary schools deserve pay parity with those who work in secondary schools.
- ECE teachers who are covered by the kindergarten teachers’ collective agreement deserve pay parity with those who work in primary and secondary schools.
- All other teachers working in ECE deserve pay equity with an unspecified group or groups of predominantly male workers in a different industry.
This represents a significant departure from their previous policy, which was for pay parity for all teachers. In the past NZEI stated that it was “a myth” that they are “not doing anything about pay parity for teachers in the childcare sector” or that “pay parity is only about kindergarten teachers”. NZEI said “That is simply not true.vii”
When the last government was in power, funding for ECE was not a high priority. In those circumstances it is understandable that a pay equity claim might have been pursued as it was potentially a way of legally forcing the government to do something, anything, about ECE teachers’ pay. We now have a Labour-led government, which recognises the need to fund ECE properly, so that argument no longer applies.
NZEI assert that ECE teachers; “have been undervalued because our workforce is female dominated . .”.viii As has been shown, this is not the case. In any event, times have changed and now ECE teachers are required to undergo the same level of training and meet the same standards for teacher certification as teachers in both primary and secondary schools. All qualified ECE teachers deserve pay parity.
The Labour Party states: “Children who participate in quality early childhood education enjoy the benefits throughout the rest of their lives. They do better at school, in tertiary education, and when they enter the workforce. Investment in children is one of the most important investments any government can make.”x The Labour-led government’s leaders signed a pledge to restore funding to ECE, reduce ratios and group sizes, and restore the goal of 100% qualified teachers. NZEI is pressing them to honour this pledge.
The Green Party states that it supports “pay parity for early childhood, primary and secondary educators.”xi
In this environment it is both appropriate and realistic to press for pay parity for qualified ECE teachers. Nevertheless, a pay equity claim remains an appropriate mechanism for addressing the pay and conditions of unqualified kaiako and support staff. That said, NZEI want “100% qualified teachers in every ECE service”xii and would like legislation “to achieve 100% qualified teachers by 2023”. xiiiNZEI, along with many other submitters to the draft strategic plan for early learning, wish there to be no unqualified kaiako, and see them disappearing within four years. Therefore the priority for a pay equity claim for them would appear to be low, and should not be allowed to delay addressing qualified ECE teachers’ pay.
Despite this, communicating on social media, the person introduced at the first national ECE pay meeting, organised by ChildForum on 14th July 2019, as the NZEI person doing the work on pay equity has said:
“Also pay parity may help you and me who are qualified. Where does it leave the countless passionate unqualified kaiako who work with us, trying hard to make a difference every day and are basically on minimum wage or less. They deserve better. Because they are ignored by pay parity, the sector can never unite in the same way.”xiv
This statement would seem to indicate that NZEI’s pay equity claim for qualified ECE teachers will also include unqualified ones, making it very hard for qualified teachers’ professional qualifications and teacher registration and certification to be recognised or for a unified pay scale to be achieved. Unqualified ECE teachers could be grouped with unqualified primary teacher aides for a pay equity claim. If it were logical to group unqualified with qualified ECE teachers for pay negotiations, then it would be just as logical to group teacher aides with qualified primary teachers when their pay is negotiated. That does not happen because it is not logical.
Any reason for NZEI to continue to push for pay equity, instead of pay parity, for qualified, non-kindergarten ECE teachers no longer exists. A pay equity claim for qualified non-kindergarten ECE teachers is not relevant because pay differences are not based on gender.
What Might Happen?
At the ECE pay meeting held on 14th July it was suggested by some attendees that pay equity and pay parity could both be pursued. If they are pursued in tandem the government is likely to accuse ECE of trying to take two bites of the cherry. They are likely to state that, because a pay equity claim is in process it would be premature to discuss any other pay settlements, but instead let the equity claim take its course. The existence of a pay equity campaign is very comfortable for a government that naturally wishes to defer additional financial liabilities for as long as possible. Once a pay equity claim is resolved, and regardless of its outcome, it would then be difficult to discuss pay parity – the resolution of the pay equity claim would be pointed to as the final resolution of the matter. By its nature the existence of a pay equity campaign would result in pay parity never being achieved.
The NZEI’s pay equity claim for qualified ECE teachers is therefore likely to permanently endanger any chance of ever achieving pay parity.
For a pay equity claim there are three possible outcomes:
- A settlement on better terms than primary and kindergarten teachers have achieved.
- A settlement on the same terms as primary and kindergarten teachers.
- A settlement on worse terms than primary and kindergarten teachers.
The first of these, whilst not unlikely due to the historic downgrading of all teachers’ status and remuneration, would be politically almost impossible to implement. It would take a most courageous Cabinet that agreed to it and then faced down consequential demands, including potential industrial action, from kindergarten, primary and secondary teachers.
No other sector has the same system as teachers for recognising length of service over a large number of pay steps. Therefore, the second outcome is only probable if the, predominantly female, primary teaching sector is the ‘male dominated’ industry taken as a comparison. By definition this would not be ‘pay equity’, but it is the only outcome that would create a unified pay scale.
The third outcome, something less than parity, would presumably have to be accepted by those who supported the NZEI’s pay equity claim. It would, however, be objected to most strongly by those who had not asked the NZEI to act on their behalf. Indeed, many ECE teachers supporting the NZEI’s pay equity claim have no idea that parity and equity are different concepts and mean different things. They think that the NZEI is trying to get them the same pay as primary teachers and are therefore likely to balk at agreeing to anything less. This would further fragment the sector and would not solve the real issue of treating teachers as teachers, regardless of the sector they work in. There is an online petition for pay parity (it can be found here).
At the time of writing this petition had gained almost 9,000 signatures, proving that there is strong support for pay parity for all qualified ECE teachers.
Therefore, of the three possible outcomes from a successful pay equity case:
- the first would be politically impossible to implement,
- the second is diminishingly unlikely, but is the only outcome that would create a unified pay scale; and
- the third would result in disagreement, disappointment, disillusionment and a further fragmentation of the ECE sector.
A pay equity claim for qualified ECE teachers has no happy outcome. It should not be pursued. Pay parity should be pursued for qualified ECE teachers. Unqualified ECE teachers should be grouped with primary teacher aides for a pay equity claim.
Issues with Implementing Parity
Pay parity for all ECE teachers with kindergarten, primary and secondary teachers would mean having a unified pay scale recognising pay increments based on length of service. (Hopefully equity would too, but that is completely unknown.) If the government were paying teachers directly this would not be a problem. For kindergarten associations and other employers with many centres, and therefore a wide distribution of teaching experience, the pay liability would approximate to an average. A system which allocated funding based on children’s attendance would work – it does for kindergartens today – and centres could attest that they were paying to the scale. For employers with a single centre or a small number of centres, things would be more difficult. Centres with predominantly very long serving staff would spend all their allocated funding, and maybe more, on pay, while those with mostly inexperienced staff would have lots of money left over for other things. Simply attesting to meeting a pay scale is not a universal solution.
Allocating funding to take length of service into account would require significant amendments to the ECE Funding Handbook and can only be sorted out through a new mechanism, hopefully being examined as part of the strategic plan for early learning. Both the NZEIxv and Ixvi have suggested that the integrated schools’ model could be applied to ECE, resulting in teachers being paid directly by the government. Adopting the integrated schools’ model for ECE pay would be administratively relatively straightforward and would allow greater transparency over the balance of government funding going to ECE centres.
The Best Way Forward
Very clearly everyone working in or alongside ECE agrees that there is a desperate need to improve pay and conditions for qualified and certificated ECE teachers who do not work in kindergartens. A unified pay scale for all teachers is the only way to recognise that a teacher is a teacher is a teacher. This is something that NZEI has supported in the past, and the logic for them to continue to do so has not changed.
Without a unified pay scale, those qualified ECE teachers who are paid less than their primary and kindergarten peers will continue to feel aggrieved. Without a unified pay scale the Ministry of Education will continue to be in breach of the Auditor General’s principles for good practice in the public service. Specifically, paying kindergarten teachers more than other identically qualified teachers is unfair, unreasonable and displays partiality.
The appropriate way to hold the Ministry to account is to:
- highlight the Auditor General’s principles for good practice in the public service,
- publicise the unfairness, unreasonableness and partiality being displayed by the Ministry, and
- because kindergarten associations are not part of the State sector, press the Ministry of Education to abandon its position that “kindergarten services have a special relationship with government”.
A new funding mechanism for ECE is needed if pay parity and a unified pay scale are to be implemented. However, a rapid step towards rectifying the current injustice could be taken by adjusting the attestation rate, the lowest rate that ECE teachers can be paid and still give their employers access to government funding. The attestation rate should be adjusted to align with a step on the kindergarten teachers’ collective agreement. This would require an adjustment to funding rates, timed to deliver funding in time for the first pay day after the new attestation rate is implemented. Note that simply adjusting the attestation rate is not delivering either pay parity or pay equity. It is merely something that could be implemented rapidly to alleviate the current crisis in ECE teachers’ pay. It is a stop-gap measure. It is not a solution.
It would seem that the best way forward is to:
- restart NZEI’s pay parity campaign for qualified ECE teachers,
- highlight the Ministry’s unfairness, unreasonableness and partiality, noting that their actions are in breach of the Auditor General’s principles for good practice in the public service;
- because kindergarten teachers are not members of the State sector, press the Ministry to abandon their position that “kindergarten services have a special relationship with government”;
- encourage all qualified ECE teachers, their employers and other interested parties to press for pay parity;
- ask all interested parties to sign the pay parity petition by accessing this link: https://our.actionstation.org.nz/petitions/ece-equity,
- include unqualified ECE kaiako in the pay equity campaign for primary school teacher aides, and
- as a stop-gap measure, press for the attestation rate to be brought in line with a step on the kindergarten teachers’ collective agreement, this to be accompanied by a funding increase timed to fund the first pay day after the attestation rate is increased.
There is wide agreement that there is a desperate need to improve pay and conditions for qualified and certificated ECE teachers who do not work in kindergartens. There is widespread confusion about the difference between pay parity and pay equity, with many people believing that they are the same thing.They are not.
Kindergarten teachers have pay parity with their peers in the primary and secondary education sectors. Other qualified ECE teachers do not. Once upon a time NZEI were in favour of pay parity for all ECE teachers, yet now they are promoting a pay equity claim rather than pushing for pay parity.
Pay parity, having a unified pay scale for all qualified ECE, primary and secondary teachers, would be fair and reasonable. It would be in line with the Auditor General’s principles for good practice in the public service. In the past NZEI advocated for pay parity for all qualified ECE teachers. The political environment is now right to again press for pay parity.
Pay equity is designed to correct pay imbalances based on gender. A pay equity campaign cannot compare ECE teachers with a comparable male group in the same profession because such a group does not exist. Comparable groups in the same profession, with the same qualifications and professional standards, do exist, but their gender balance is similar. In the case of kindergartens, it is identical.
Non-kindergarten ECE pay is not low because the teachers are largely female. If the differences were gender based then primary and kindergarten teachers would be paid the same as other ECE teachers. Non-kindergarten ECE pay is low due to the unfairness in Ministry funding arrangements. The discrimination is based on the Ministry of Education’s allocating more funding to some ECE employers than to others. The Ministry of Education has said that “kindergarten services have a special relationship with government”. It is this ‘special relationship’ rather than gender balance that is responsible for differences in funding, and thus pay scales. There is no legal basis for this ‘special relationship’. Kindergarten teachers are not State sector employees.
The Ministry is gender neutral in its approach. It is also unfair, unreasonable, partial and in breach of the Auditor General’s principles for good practice in the public service.
Because the discrimination is not gender based, pay equity does not apply to qualified ECE teachers. A pay equity claim can never deliver, and endangers ever achieving, pay parity and a unified pay scale. It has no happy outcome. It should not be pursued.
The NZEI should re-start its pay parity campaign for qualified ECE teachers. All qualified ECE teachers, their employers and other interested parties, including the NZEI, should press for pay parity. All interested parties, including the NZEI, should support the pay parity petition here.
Pay equity is appropriate for unqualified ECE kaiako. A pay equity campaign for them could be processed as part of the equity claim for primary school teacher aides.
A unified pay scale will require changes to the system for funding ECE centres. Adopting the integrated schools’ model, where all teachers are paid directly by the ministry, is one way of addressing this issue.
As a stop-gap measure, the attestation rate should be brought in line with a step on the kindergarten teachers’ collective agreement, this to be accompanied by a funding increase timed to fund the first pay day after the attestation rate is increased.
It is recommended that:
- the NZEI’s pay parity campaign for qualified ECE teachers should be re-started,
- all qualified ECE teachers, their employers and other interested parties, including the NZEI, press for pay parity for qualified ECE teachers,
- all interested parties, including the NZEI, support the pay parity petition here: https://our.actionstation.org.nz/petitions/ece-equity;
- NZEI include unqualified ECE kaiako in the pay equity process for primary school teacher aides;
- the Ministry of Education comply with the Auditor General’s principles for good practice in the public service by treating and funding all ECE providers in the same way;
- the Ministry of Education restructure ECE funding and employment arrangements so that they can cater for a unified pay scale; and
- as a stop-gap measure, the attestation rate be brought in line with a step on the kindergarten teachers’ collective agreement, and that this be accompanied by a funding increase timed to fund the first pay day after the attestation rate is increased.
- Kelly, J. (2000). Pay parity for early childhood teachers. Policy, practice and politics – NZEI Te Riu Roa early childhood millenium conference proceedings. New Zealand Educational Institute, p. 137.
- Ministry of Education CE 1194434 dated 2 July 2019
- Kelly op.cit., p. 130.
- Melissa Burgess on Facebook 17th July 2019
- Haynes, D. Tackle early childhood education first, unpublished paper submitted to “the Education Conversation”, June 2018, p 10