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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. [Volume 39, Issue 8. April 1976]

We've Been Robbed (Again!)

page 3

We've Been Robbed (Again!)

A major confrontation is looming between the Government and the student and teacher organisations as a result of a Cabinet decision to cut first year student teachers' allowances.

Only a few months after taking office, the National Government has broken its election promise to retain the present level of allowances paid to student teachers and has adopted the defeated Labour Government's policy of attempting to undermine student teachers' existing conditons.

Although Education Minister Les Gander has tried to justify breaking the Government's election promise by blaming the Labour administration for creating "major anomalies in the conditions for students entering teachers' colleges this year", the Government's decision not to pay new entrants to teachers' colleges the January 3.1% cost of living wage adjustment is seen as part of its overall policy of cutting education spending.

This policy has already caused a sharp reaction from the NZ Educational Institute (representing primary teachers) the Post-Primary Teachers' Association, the Free Kindergarten Teachers' Association, the Student Teachers' Association and the NZ University Students' Association.

Labour's Bursaries Bungle

The controversy over student teachers' allowances first blew up after the Labour Government introduced the standard tertiary bursary in the Budget last May.

Labour Finance Minister Bob Tizard's statement that the Government would give preference to students admitted to teachers' colleges in 1976 who opted for the unbonded standard bursary caused an uproar among teacher and student organisations. Protest meetings were held all round the country, angry deputations called on the Minister of Education and the Prime Minister and Wellington students marched on Parliament.

Anxious to capitalise on popular discontent with the Labour Government, the National Party was quick to criticise the new bursary plans. Speaking in Parliament on 5 June, Opposition Education spokesman Les Gandar outlined National's alternative policy. 'The National Party has already announced", he said, "that, when it becomes the Government in November, it will first restore the present conditions for student teachers."

It did not take long for the Labour Government to buckle under student and teacher pressure. Just over a week after the Budget announcement, Education Minister Phil Amos told Parliament that the Government had decided to drop its controversial decision to give preference to new entrants to teachers' colleges who opted for the unbonded bursary.

The Government then attempted to heavily increase the bond for those student teachers who opted for bonded allowances in 1976. But once again, the student and teacher organisations told the Government that its plans were unacceptable. Finally, on 19 August last year. Amos announced that the bond would not be increased and that students entering teachers' college in 1976 would have the option of the unbonded bursary or the current student teacher allowances.

Employee Obligations

Teacher's college students have always received a much higher level of allowances than students at universities and technical institutes. In return for signing a bond obligation to repay each year of training with a year's service to the state, student teachers receive annual allowances ranging from about $2500 to $5500.

In legal terms, these allowances are a peculiarity. They have always been negotiated between the Education Department and the teachers' organisations in the same way as teachers' salaries. The allowances have attracted regular cost of living increases paid to state servants and have been taxed. But the allowances are not a 'wage' or a 'salary'.

However student teachers have an "employee-employer" relationship with their bosses, the Education Boards and the Teachers' Colleges. They undergo a directed programme of training which combines professional preparation with liberal arts courses. And teachers' college students undertaking the three year courses spend over one fifth of their time in the classroom 'on section".

During their classroom training, student teachers must act, for all intents and purposes, like a junior teacher rather than a student. In this respect their course of training is more analogous to that of a policeman who goes through a police training school than to that of a university student.

Recruitment Levels

The central point of concern of the student and teacher organisations' opposition to the Labour Government's plans to phase out student teachers bonded allowances was their fear that lower allowances would not attract students to teachers' colleges. Although recruitment levels were high, the students and teachers argued that that gave teachers' college selection committees a greater ability to select keen and able teacher trainees.

The students and teachers pointedly reminded the Labour Government how a decision, on financial grounds, in the 1930's to close the training colleges had left the country with a drastic teacher shortage in later years. The message was that the Government could not foresee the potentially disastrous effects its plans for student teachers might have on future levels of recruitment to the teaching profession.

The Labour Government also came in for some harsh criticism for its refusal to consult with the student and teacher organisations before announcing its plans for student teachers in the Budget.

It wasn't until Amos's announcement on 19 August that this message finally got through to the Labour Government. In September the Director-General of Educations convened a meeting with representatives of the employing authorities, the teacher organisations and the student organisations to discuss student teachers' allowances from 1977 on. These discussions were still continuing when the Labour Government was defeated at the November General Election.

National's Promise to Students

It is not certain how big a part the Labour Party's bungling over student teacher allowances played in winning votes for the National Party. But the National Party seized the opportunity to play on students' discontent and constantly attacked the Labour Government for its lack of consultation and its ill-prepared plans.

On 5 September Les Gandar outlined the National Party's policy in a letter to interested organisations. The first point of this policy was a promise to "retain the present level of allowances paid to student teachers" And in explaining this pledge Gandar stated: "The present student teacher allowance carries with it obligations of an employer/employee relationship. Until this important matter has been thoroughly examined we feel that the 1975 situation should be continued in the meantime."

Later, the Young Nationals put out a poster titled "Labour Government Rips Students Off', which was authorised by Gandar as National's spokesman on Education. This poster stated: "Consulting no-one but Treasury about student needs, the Government has slashed the Student Teachers average pay by two thirds (a statement which was quite incorrect), to pay for other students rightful allowances. Why should one section of students have to suffer the loss of their rightful allowances in order to provide a basic allowance for the rest?"

Two days before the election, the National Party fired its final round on student allowances. A large advertisement placed in metropolitan dailies proclaimed that a National Government would "restore the present scale of payments to teacher trainees."

The Government Backtracks

In the dying days of the election campaign the student organisations warned that the National Party was attempting to bribe students with hollow promises and blatantly dishonest propaganda. The National Government's decision on student teachers has now shown that their concern was well-founded.

It is not known if the Government even bothered to consult the Treasury before deciding not to pay new entrants to teachers' colleges the January 3.1% wage adjustment. Certainly, the student and teacher organisations were not consulted. And Gandar's justification for this decision had a rather familiar ring to it.

After a meeting with teacher and student organisations on 15 April. Gandar said that until the anomalies in the conditions of new entrants to teachers' colleges had been resolved, the Government had decided not to let allowances move further away from the standard tertiary bursary, as would occur if the January wage adjustment was applied to new entrants to teachers' colleges. This statement strongly implied that the Government had surreptitiously adopted the defeated Labour Government's long-term policy of moving all tertiary students on to the same level of allowances.

Gandar has also said that he wants the Education Department to resume the discussions on student teachers' allowances from 1977 on, that began during Labour's last couple of months in office. The student and teacher organisations have told him that they want the cut in first year student teachers' pay restored first. And, as the battle lines are being drawn, it appears that the National Government's unilateral decision is letting Gandar in for the same rough ride over student allowances that gave his predecessor, Phil Amos, such a stormy period in office.

Drawing of a man smoking on a bed and girl mending a shirt