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NZEI's History

View the NZEI Te Riu Roa heritage site

Political Change
Historical Timeline


The New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa is New Zealand's oldest teachers' organisation. It was formed at a meeting in Christchurch in 1883 to promote the interests of teachers, to take joint action should a teacher be unfairly dealt with and to promote a higher standard of education. Over the next 20 years other provinces affiliated and membership grew steadily. The Institute quickly became an effective voice for teachers and for education. Within a few years it was recognised, respected, listened to and consulted by the Minister of Education, the Department of Education and the Education Boards. It established a reputation for strong criticism of the system and active campaigning for better education. It also took legal action in defence of its members. The Institute campaigned to have salaries paid at the same rate across the country and put pressure on the government to assume the employer role in determining the conditions of teachers. It was a powerful force in its determination to have a national system of education and advocated vigorously for a national curriculum, superannuation, appointments and teacher training.


The political and education changes of the late 1980s had an enormous impact on NZEI Te Riu Roa. The State Sector Act 1987 changed wage bargaining to a more private sector model and for the first time primary teachers worked under a national award. In 1989 the government introduced Tomorrow's Schools, a wide-ranging reform of the education system. Local school Boards of Trustees became employers of teachers instead of 10 regional Education Boards, a change which had a major impact on NZEI Te Riu Roa's organisation and structure. Among the changes was a restructuring to enable Māori members to have greater participation in the organisation. Te Reo Areare, the Māori Council of NZEI Te Riu Roa, now determines the Māori policy of the organisation and advocates for change in Māori education.

Political Change

In 1991 the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) again changed the bargaining process, this time for all workers. The ECA promotes individual contracts and creates major obstacles for collective bargaining, especially for multi-employer contracts. NZEI Te Riu Roa has been largely successful in its strong resistance to individual contracts in the primary education sector. Its campaign to prevent total fragmentation into individual contracts and retain multi-employer employment contracts in the early childhood sector has been largely successful.

In the wake of the ECA, many smaller unions found it hard to operate effectively. Some did not survive. In 1992 the Education Service Paraprofessional Association (ESPA), which represented support staff in schools amalgamated with NZEI Te Riu Roa. In 1994, numbers were further boosted when former school members of the defunct Clerical Workers Union joined NZEI Te Riu Roa. That same year the Combined Early Childhood Union of Aotearoa (CECUA) amalgamated with NZEI to form NZEI Te Riu Roa. The organisation now has more than 44,000 members, making it one of the biggest unions in New Zealand, and the largest education union.

Despite the hostile industrial relations environment generated by the ECA, NZEI Te Riu Roa in 1998 achieved its long term goal of pay parity within a unified pay system for primary teachers. This gives primary teachers and principals with the same experience and qualifications the same pay as secondary teachers and principals.

In 2001, NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiated the first collective agreement for Group Special Education support workers employed by the Ministry of Education.

In 2002, kindergarten teacher members won pay parity with other teachers, and in October 2004, pay parity for early childhood education teachers was successfully negotiated for the first time. The "Consenting Parties" agreement covers more than 1800 workers in 180 community and not-for-profit centres.

In 2003-4, NZEI Te Riu Roa recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay for support staff who had not been receiving their correct pay and conditions. In 2005, support staff members won recognition of the need for increased job security and a fairer funding system when the Government called for a review of school operational funding, including of support staff wages.

In 2004, primary teachers won an historic victory with paid "Classroom Release Time" as a key feature of their new collective agreement.

NZEI Te Riu Roa works closely with the New Zealand Council for Trade Unions and with labour organisations worldwide. Its goal is to effectively represent all its members and to continue to hold on to the best, resist the worst and positively influence education policy into the 21st century.

Historical Timeline:

  • 1878 - Trade unions became legal

  • 1883 - New Zealand Educational Institute founded in Christchurch by 18 men teachers

  • 1893 - Votes for women – universal adult suffrage introduced

  • 1933 - NZEI Te Riu Roa elected its first female president, Margaret 'Maggie' Magill

  • 1936 - 40-hour five-day week became standard

  • 1944 - Education Act introduced universal free compulsory secondary education

  • 1952 - PPTA formed

  • 1960 - Government Service Equal Pay Act established equal pay for equal work in the state sector

  • 1972 - Equal Pay Act extended equal pay for equal work to the private sector Kōhanga Reo movement began

  • 1980s - Kura Kaupapa Māori introduced

  • 1989 - Education Act implemented “Tomorrow’s Schools” reforms. Education Boards were abolished and replaced by individual Boards of Trustees for each school

  • 1991 - Employment Contracts Act promoted individual contracts over collective agreements

  • 1992 - Health and Safety in Employment Act School support staff join NZEI Te Riu Roa

  • 1994 - Early childhood teachers join NZEI Te Riu Roa – the CECUA amalgamates with NZEI Te Riu Roa

  • 1995 - NZEI Te Riu Roa elected its first Māori President, Iria Whiu

  • 1998 - Pay parity for primary teachers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa

    Introduction of a unified pay scale in the state school sector

  • 2000 - Employment Relations Act replaced the Employment Contracts Act 1991. Promoted collective bargaining, permanent employment over fixed term, paid employment education leave

  • 2001 - First ever collective agreement for GSE support workers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa

  • 2002 - Pay parity for kindergarten teachers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa

  • 2004 - Pay parity for early childhood teachers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa Paid classroom release time won for primary teachers

  • 2007 - NZEI Te Riu Roa wins largest ever package of pay settlements for primary teachers, principals and school support staff.

125 Year Anniversary Gallery

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