Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Sad Realities of Pay Increases

I was at a meeting the other day where a school principal was saying that in this economic climate, the unions for secondary school teachers is being unreasonable. He did have a point. When put into contrast with people out there working reduced hours in order to keep their workmates employed, he had a point.

Secondary school teachers have gotten a pay rise of 4% the last 3 or so years. Suddenly, they're offered around 1.5% this year with a further 1% next year.

My problem with this isn't so much this dispute but the way we look at pay rises in general. I'm one of those where my value probably isn't realised until a few months in and have been lucky in most jobs where I've gotten 1 to 2 pay rises within the first 12 months. I walked out of a job which gave me a pay rise of 3% after 12 months. I was told that it was standard and I just didn't believe them.

So the problem?

We think of pay rises as being an indication that we're of value to a company. We've slaved away and gone above and beyond the call of duty, not whinged when being asked to do something outside of our contracts and given up precious time that could be spent doing things with friends or family or heaven forbid, bettering ourselves (via reading, cooking or gardening etc.).

And in return, we're given a "pay rise". Why the quotes? Because in reality, the pay rise offered normally is much more than inflation. If we were to take an inflation rate of 1.5% (sourced from here.), and then take that 3% above which I was told was standard, then I am only 1.5% better off (a touch less - the value of that 1.5% is actually gone down since that previous year by 1.5% if we're talking about value as opposed to monetary values).

What I don't understand is how that could possibly be standard. If you were earning $600 a week and then the following year, you were offered $609, you'd be no better off than the previous year. That's not a pay rise. That's inflation. So on 3%, you'd get $9 on top of that - $618 / week. But then, that extra $9 is actually worth 1.5% less than it was the previous year - that's $8.57 / week.

Given the time per week sacrificed (friends, family, reading etc.) on earning that extra $8.57 / week, is it really worth it?

Let's get back to the school teachers.

You've got these people who have to deal with the emotional issues of children and often become stressed themselves, who work about as many hours in the classroom as they do outside of the classroom (weekends, evenings etc.), who spend their "holidays" trying to shake off that stress for half of it and the other half setting up for the next term.

For that stress and hours, they're not paid at all well. Taking the $69,000 that TVNZ claim is the average amount that teachers make / year, take out a certain amount for danger money (a friend of mine was stabbed in the arm with a screw driver while breaking up a fight), a bit out for the stress involved, a bit more out for the extra time that is done outside of the classroom on weekends, evenings and holidays and really, it isn't that much. With a 1.5% increase, we're really just saying we don't really appreciate you, we'll instead just keep you up with inflation. To rub salt into the wound, they're looking at 1% the following year - assuming the same rate of inflation, they'd be worse off than this year.

Personally, I would have been happy if tax rates hadn't gone down. If instead, the money was used more productively. To put teachers on a pay scale that they deserve and perhaps put in some sort of metric which was performance based (at the moment, teachers all get paid the same with a few extras dependant on the extra-curricular activities they do for the kids and responsibility taken - encourages the best teachers to end up in management positions rather than in the classroom). Perhaps done something to enhance healthcare rather than the constant cost cutting nature of it (it seems a small leap until we're asked to do our own operations at home rather than go and take up a bed at the hospital and the cost of anaesthetic etc).

So our own situations might not be great in our current economic climate. This doesn't mean that we should be losing sight of what's important. At the risk of sounding like Whitney Houston, I believe our children are the future. Education is horribly important and those we rely on to do the educating should be getting our support.

So, Anne Tolley, with your "current economic climate", and John Key, willing to throw $90,000,000 odd Warner Brothers' way, let's get our priorities straight here.

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