30 Mar 2014

Hundreds rally for living wage

9:56 am on 30 March 2014

Primary teachers and other school staff have rallied in Auckland demanding the so-called living wage for support workers.

About 300 teachers, principals, parents and administration and support workers marched up Queen Street in Auckland on Saturday morning.

Hundreds of people took part in the march.

Hundreds of people took part in the march. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The rally comes after a round of stopwork meetings by primary school support staff wanting better pay and conditions. While they haven't turned down the offer on the table, the support workers say it's much less than what they want.

Primary teachers' union NZEI says 45 percent of the 24,000 support workers are paid much lower than the living wage.

Support worker Shirley Donaldson said it had taken her 15 years to reach the living wage level and others were not as lucky.

"Starting on the wages that they are at the moment means that most support staff have to find a second job just to make ends meet. They do not get paid 40 hours a week, they do not get paid any more than 40 weeks of any year."

Berhampore School principal Mark Potter said he employs people who are paid about the minimum wage to assist teachers working with autistic children. He said those staff members have unique communication skills that are invaluable to teachers, but schools cannot afford to pay them more without Government funding.

A visiting American teachers' union president added her voice to the living wage call. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was one of the delegates at an two-day international education summit in Wellington.

On the steps of Parliament on Saturday afternoon she told several hundred people, many of them primary school teachers and early childhood educations staff, a living wage is the key to unlocking the potential of every school aged child. She said a similar problem exists in the United States.