At an annual conference in Rotorua today, the union said there was a “crisis” in early childhood education (ECE) and rallied support to fix the widening pay gap between ECE and kindergarten and school teachers.

NZEI Te Riu Roa said ECE teachers earned an average of 23 per cent less than kindergarten teachers and by next year they could be earning 49 per cent less.

The starting salary for ECE teachers is presently $45,491, whilst primary and secondary teachers are on $48,410 following their recent collective agreement settlements.

NZEI said whilst the Ministry of Education is not a party in the negotations, its funding and policy decisions directly impacted in reaching a settlement. 

The Early Childhood Education Collective Agreement (ECECA) covers only a small percentage of the 30,000 teachers working in ECE, but its members retain decision-making control over the negotiations and claim process.

NZEI's campaign is about getting the backing of the whole sector and building power to demand the Government increases funding for ECE.

"The ECECA is unique in that it sets the minimum rates for the rest of the ECE sector. That means all ECE teachers, whether they're covered by a collective or not, have a stake in what we're claiming in these negotiations,” NZEI national secretary Paul Goulter said.

“This campaign is about building the power of the whole ECE sector by joining our voices together and demanding the Government fix the pay gap."

ECE teacher Chloe Lundie-Hodge said recent collective agreement settlements in kindergarten and primary have only emphasised how much ECE teachers have been left behind by more than a decade of severe underfunding.

"The gap between ECE and kindergarten teachers is now between 9.5 per cent and 49 per cent. That is just not OK. We need the Government to commit to an urgent pay jolt to start closing the gap, and then set out a plan for how they will close the gap for good," she said.