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Overworked, underpaid: What nurses and teachers want from the Budget

Damien Venuto, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 May 2023, 10:45AM
New Zealand's nurses and teachers are burned out. Photo / 123RF
New Zealand's nurses and teachers are burned out. Photo / 123RF

Overworked, underpaid: What nurses and teachers want from the Budget

Damien Venuto, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 17 May 2023, 10:45AM

The health and education sectors have become synonymous with the word crisis in recent years. This is reflected in nurses and teachers taking to the streets to express their discontent with the working conditions they face.

Understaffing, long work hours and poor pay have been central concerns for the Kiwis working in these important roles.

The 2023 Budget offers an opportunity to address these concerns, but the economic pressure on the country right now means that any steps taken likely won’t go far enough to address years, if not decades, of underfunding.

Speaking to The Front Page podcast, New Zealand Nurses Organisation chief executive Paul Goulter says he would like to see a plan that addresses both the long- and short-term issues facing the health sector.

“The chronic understaffing of nursing has been going on for years,” says Goulter.

“It was made worse by Covid, and the problems haven’t gone away. Our nurses around the country have absolutely been under the pump for years and they’re just getting sick and tired of having to carry the burden of the failing health system.”

Fixing that health system is no easy task, but Goulter argues there are certain clear steps the Government could take to move the country in the right direction.

“We want to see pay parity across the sector. We think that a nurse is a nurse and it doesn’t matter where you work. You bring a skills and knowledge package to that job.

“We also want to see money committed to an earn-as-you-learn programme so that nurses can be assisted throughout their training. And we want to see a commitment from the Government to support nurses when they actually go onto the job, so they have actual proper mentoring and coaching to learn how to do their profession.”

Teachers are similarly fed up with the challenges they face in an under-resourced sector. Liam Rutherford, the immediate past president of the New Zealand Educational Institute, tells The Front Page that teachers are facing high levels of burnout as they try to fill the gaps in the workforce.

A recent survey found that around 24 per cent of advertised teacher positions had no suitable applicants, and 28 per cent had only one.

“This is a long-term issue that the Government doesn’t have a good enough response to right now,” says Rutherford.

“We’re hearing from universities that do the majority of teacher training that the numbers are way down, and so, what we actually need is the Government to be more deliberate in how they are planning for teacher numbers. At the end of the day, if we don’t get teacher numbers right that will affect how our children learn.”

Rutherford says that addressing that shortfall will be two-fold in that it demands action for the immediate shortage and planning for ongoing shortages in the future.

“Some of this is going to be an immigration issue, but we actually should demand better than that as our long-term solution. We should be able to create an education workforce that young people want to join out of high school. And that’s currently not the case.”

Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that the international market is rife with lucrative opportunities for teachers and nurses.

And the longer these critical workers are left to endure these tough conditions, the more appealing those positions abroad might look.

So will the Government be able to deliver for teachers and nurses? Are solutions even possible in the current economic climate? And what will it take to actually keep New Zealand teachers and nurses in this country?

Listen to the full episode of The Front Page podcast for the full discussion on these issues.

The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.

You can follow the podcast at iHeartRadioApple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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