Friday, 9 April 2010

'We've already moved public opinion' – NZEI organiser

UNITYblog spoke with Peter Hughes (left in photo above), an NZEI field officer (union organiser) who travelled on the Bus Tour, about the union’s campaign against national standards.

How did the tour go?

“The Bus Tour kicked off on the first day of term. Hundreds of schools have been visited. We’ve aimed to do four or five a day. The initial meetings spurred demand for a whole lot more.

“We found that those who were concerned to start with have become very concerned, and are trying to find strategies for engaging with communities. It’s already moved public opinion.”

What do you think about teachers boycotting national standards, an idea mentioned by NZEI president Frances Nelson at the rally at parliament on March 31?

“Technically, a boycott is industrial action, which is illegal under the Employment Relations Act. But it won’t be illegal after July 1, when our collective agreement expires. Some teachers want to link our pay claim to the campaign against national standards. There’s a concern that national standards will lead to ‘performance pay’, where teachers are paid more or less according to their school’s test results.”

The government has threatened to sack elected school boards and replace them with commissioners if they refuse to implement national standards. Can they do it?

“It’s a numbers game. If even 200 schools refuse to do it, the government won’t be able to carry out its threats. There won’t be enough commissioners! But it must be done collectively. Individual boards and principals can be picked off.”

What’s the potential for this campaign to feed into more general grassroots resistance to the National government?

“I was in the union office this morning. The members who came in to support the campaign were talking about the government’s plans to mine the National Parks. The issues are crossing over.

“Right now, the public petition calling for a trial of national standards before they’re introduced is extremely important. We’ve got over 21,000 signatures now. We need tens of thousands more.”

(For more on the fight against the government's national standards, click here)

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