Union says poor pay and conditions to blame for skyrocketing ECE vacancies

23 June 2021

Education union NZEI Te Riu Roa says ECE centres are struggling to fill vacancies - and it's all down to the sector's low pay and poor conditions.

For the first time since it began collecting data late last year, NZEI Te Riu Roa says ECE vacancies exceeded 500 this month - though over that time they've consistently been much higher than in the schooling sector.

"Despite having a smaller total workforce, there are more vacancies for ECE teacher roles than in primary and secondary combined", says NZEI Te Riu Roa President / Te Manukura Liam Rutherford.

"There are about the same number of teachers working in ECE as in secondary schools. Our estimates show that this month, vacancy rates are twice as high in ECE as in secondary.

"It's shocking, but also pretty unsurprising when the pay imbalance is currently as much as 51% for jobs that require the same qualifications. It's a no-brainer: teachers with the same experience, qualifications and responsibilities absolutely deserve the same pay and conditions.

"The situation is complicated further by a broken funding model: ECE centres are bulk funded, so there's currently no way for the Government to guarantee specific pay rates for every teacher."

Despite recent funding injections from the Government, ECE teacher pay still lags behind schools. A survey NZEI Te Riu Roa conducted at the start of this year showed that those in the sector believed this was the key reason behind ECE teacher shortages. In that survey, over 70% of respondents said their centre had struggled to fill vacancies in the last year. Over 85% said they believed the shortage was having an impact on children.

"We have to address the severe pay inequities in our education system - it's overdue", says Rutherford. "The Government needs to accelerate full funding for pay parity for all teachers in next year’s Budget, and to fix the sector's broken funding system urgently.” 

"Ultimately, we need to be able to set standards across the sector that deliver fair pay and entrench the conditions many union members under collective agreements have already fought for. As we see it, union collective agreements are the way forward - but a sectorwide fair pay agreement would also ensure minimum legal standards in pay and conditions.

"What we're seeing now are consequences ECE teachers have been warning of for far too long - and we just can't afford to see the situation get any worse."

The numbers

Vacancies on 16 June 2021 as percentage of total teacher staff/headcount (2020), by sector*:

  • ECE – 1.78% (541 vacancies, 30476 total teaching staff)
  • Primary – 0.63% (262 vacancies, 41557 total teacher headcount)
  • Secondary – 0.73% (220 vacancies, 30172 total teacher headcount)

Over the period (January-June 2021): 

  • Total vacancies grew by 48.8% 
  • ECE vacancies account for approximately half of all teacher vacancies 
  • ECE/Kōhanga Reo vacancies grew by 57.3%, an average increase of 4.8% per month 
  • Primary and intermediate vacancies grew by 64.8%, an average increase of 6% per month. 

*ECE teacher staffing data is collected through the ECE census, whereas the Ministry of Education uses its own staffing data to get headcounts. Care should be taken when making comparisons.

For more information: