Who we are

NZEI Te Riu Roa is the union of more than 50,000 principals, teachers and support staff and specialist staff working in primary, area and secondary schools, early childhood centres, learning support and school advisory services. We operate from a national office in Wellington and 12 regional offices across the country. 

The NZEI Te Riu Roa vision is to be the most powerful education union in New Zealand. Our mission is to advocate for a strong, vibrant and well-resourced public education system where all tamariki can reach their full potential.

Paper marae suspended from the ceiling by string.

Mōku te Ao

Mōku te Ao is the way NZEI Te Riu Roa drives change in the education system to one based on Rangatiratanga so that it leads to success for tamariki Māori. What is good for Māori is good for everyone. 

Mōku te Ao is based around eight Pou and is a Māori first approach. It is a part of how we empower our members and staff to work towards system change. 

Members standing together and singing at Hui-ā-tau 2022

We stand together

Kia tū tahi ai tātou i Riu Roa
The long valley in which we all stand together

A te wā kōrero ai, kua rangona whānuitia a tātou reo pāoro mai i te riu
In this valley, when we speak, our voice echoes through for all to hear

A tātou reo pāorooro hei reo whakakotahi ai
Our combined voices reverberate out as a unified voice

Kia tūhono ngā reo katoa, kia rongo ai he reo kotahi.
We are many voices coming together, all voices heard.

Members voting on resolutions at Hui-ā-tau 2022.

Rules, Policy and Ethics

As a registered trade union in Aotearoa New Zealand, members are guided by three key documents. These are the union rules, union policy and a code of ethics. 

You can download the most recent copies of these documents below.

Read the NZEI Te Riu Roa rules here: NZEI Te Riu Roa Rules 2023 FINAL.

Our history

For more than a century, NZEI Te Riu Roa members have been a force for change in the education sector in Aotearoa. Check out some of the key moments from our history.



Trade unions became legal in Aotearoa

Prior to the passing of the Trade Unions Regulation and Management Act of 1978, there was no legal definition of a trade union in New Zealand. Pictured are members of NZEI Te Riu Roa in 1887 – the earliest available picture of members in our records!


New Zealand Educational Institute founded by 18 male teachers

The New Zealand Education Institute was established as part of a resolution of other smaller associations and agreed to amalgamate with future bodies also able to join the institute. It was a bold move given the challenges of national communication and travel at the time.


Votes for women – universal adult suffrage introduced

Despite the best efforts of the Prime Minister of the day, women’s right to vote was enshrined in legislation on 19 September 1893 by a slim majority of the upper house (20 for, 18 against). This laid the foundations for future equity work to recognise the contributions of women to Aotearoa society. Image source: Parliamentary Collection 


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

Magill was a prominent member of society and was also the first openly queer president of NZEI Te Riu Roa. At the time of her death in 1962 there had only been one other female president of the union.


NZEI Te Riu Roa published “Order out of Chaos”

The publication was a scathing rebuke of the existing educational policy instrument and called for radical changes to the Education Act – reducing it to just four clauses and effectively calling for the consolidation of education policy decision making to a National Board of Education, rather than resting with the whims of the government of the day.


Education Act introduced universal free compulsory secondary education

In 1944 NZEI Te Riu Roa published 'Educational Reconstruction' which set out proposed reforms for the education system in Aotearoa in a post war world. Free, compulsory and universal education was subsequently introduced later that year through the Education Act.


PPTA formed

In their founding documents, the Post-Primary Teachers' Association states their objectives as advancing the cause of education general, to advocate for their member's claims and to affirm and advance Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 


Familiar calls for smaller class sizes

The pictured pamphlet from 1957 illustrates the spread of class sizes across the country. Over 60 years later and the underlying principle remains that smaller classes are better for teachers and students.


NZEI Te Riu Roa celebrates its 75th Jubilee

It's not all about hard work, and after three-quarters of a century a bit of a celebration is definitely justified! Pictured are members enjoying a drink (and the odd cigarette) together to reflect on 75 years of NZEI Te Riu Roa. 


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

This act legislated the obligation for state service workers to be paid equally for equal work without gender being a consideration when setting wages. This was a landmark step towards pay equity in Aotearoa.

Pictured: Attendees at Annual Meeting 1960


The construction of Education House on Willis St in Wellington

Education House was the home of NZEI Te Riu Roa, amongst other varied uses over the years, right through until March 2021. The site has since been repurposed into a hall of residence for students at Victoria University of Wellington.


Plugged into politics

NZEI Te Riu Roa has not only held a seat at the table of policy discussions for decades – they’ve also hosted one. These photos of Keith Holyoake (then Prime Minister) and Norman Kirk (then Leader of the Opposition and future Prime Minister) addressing the NZEI Te Riu Roa annual meeting demonstrates the union’s longstanding connections with the highest level of politics and policy.


International Year for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

As true then as it is today: what is good for tamariki Māori is good for all tamariki. In the words of a report to the 1971 annual meeting on Māori education: “By focussing on the problems of the Maoris [sic], much can be more easily lent to solve problems and this benefit our society as a whole.”

Pictured: a meeting of the NZEI Te Riu Roa Māori Reference Group


Equal Pay Act extended equal pay for equal work to the private sector

Where the Government Service Equal Pay Act laid the foundations for equal pay in the public sector, this act extended its principles to private sector employees. It afforded some level of protection for employees whose occupation was considered less valuable on account of being women’s work. Despite this step forward, the fight for pay equity continues to this day. 


The first Kōhanga Reo was opened in Wainuiomata

Te Kōhanga Reo movement was driven by Māori in response to drastic drops in the knowledge and use of te reo Māori over the 20th century. By 1993, there were more Kōhanga Reo around the country than kindergartens or playcentres despite a complete lack of government funding or support.


The first Kura Kaupapa Māori established in West Auckland

Much like Kōhanga Reo, these early Kura had to fundraise to operate. They delivered the state curriculum in a full immersion setting. It wasn’t until 1989 that the government began supporting these kura and 1990 before it supported the establishment of new Kura Kaupapa Māori.

Pictured: Hoani Waititi Marae, the location of the first Kura Kaupapa to be established in Aotearoa. 


Education Act implemented

Off the back of the Picot Report in 1988, the Labour government passed legislation intended to modernise the education system. This act laid out the shape of the sector in New Zealand in many ways. Among many stipulations, it implemented the 'Tomorrow’s Schools' reforms and abolished Education Boards to be replaced by individual Boards of Trustees for each school.

Pictured: Mr Brian Picot visiting the NZEI national executive, July 1988


Employment Contracts Act passed into law

The Act dealt a severe blow to unionism in Aotearoa and marked the beginning of a steep decline in employment conditions in the years following. It effectively promoted individual employment agreements by making union membership voluntary and removing any special status of unions in negotiations.


School support staff join NZEI Te Riu Roa and campaigns against bulk funding began

The government of the day proposed a move to bulk funding for schools – that each school would be given a bulk amount of money each year and they would choose how to spend it – including setting wages for teachers. Parents and teachers opposed this move as it would lead to rich schools and poor schools


Early childhood teachers join NZEI Te Riu Roa

Following the pressure created by the Employment Contracts Act 1991, members of NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Combined Early Childhood Union of Aotearoa (CECUA) voted to amalgamate the two organisations to build their collective strength across both sectors.

Pictured: Union staff stuffing envelopes to notify members of the amalgamation of the two unions. 


NZEI Te Riu Roa elected its first Māori President, Te Iria Mārama Whiu

Te Iria was a lifetime advocate for NZEI Te Riu Roa and the education sector. She was staunchly committed to quality public education. Such was her commitment to the cause that she passed away while in attendance at Te Kāhui Whetu in 2015 and was mourned by many colleagues, friends and whanau within our union and beyond.


Pay parity for primary teachers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa

“Pay parity was not only a victory for teachers but for all women … pay parity constitutes a considerable step towards addressing the low pay rates and undervaluing of women workers that are so much a part of the New Zealand labour market.” – Liz Patara during her presidential address, 1998 Annual Meeting


Employment Relations Act replaced the Employment Contracts Act 1991

While the new act didn’t undo all the damage done in 1991, this act promoted collective bargaining, permanent employment over fixed term and paid employment education leave. Of note was the requirement for unions and employers to negotiate in good faith; a principle that is still central to the way that NZEI Te Riu Roa negotiates collective agreements.


First ever collective agreement for GSE support workers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa members

This was a landmark moment, bringing together a previously disconnected group of workers to exercise their collective strength. This was a strong signal of the crucial role of learning support in education in Aotearoa. 

Pictured: GSE Support Workers gathered at National Office in Whanganui-a-tara.


Pay parity for kindergarten teachers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa

Following on from the precedent set in 1998, pay parity with primary teachers was negotiated for kindergarten teachers. This cemented the idea that the age of the child does not determine the value of those teaching them. 

Pictured: Teacher Jan Edward showing pay parity campaign poster to Manawatu resident Angela McKinnon.


Pay parity for early childhood teachers negotiated by NZEI Te Riu Roa

Parity for ECE teachers with their kindergarten colleagues was first won in 2004 under the Consenting Parties Agreement. The fragmented nature of the privately owned early childhood education sector has meant that this standard has not been consistently upheld and work in this space is ongoing. 

Pictured: Teachers Paula Matheson (left), Danielle Simnor (centre) and Debbie Campbell-Knight (right) celebrate pay parity for ECE under the consenting parties agreement.


35,000 signatures delivered to the Associate Minister of Education calling for an end to bulk funding for support staff

This was a landmark moment for support staff members of NZEI Te Riu Roa, banding together and making a clear statement to the government about their value to the sector. The signatures were presented in physical boxes to the Associate Minister to demonstrate the scale of their support.


Kindergarten strikes across the country

The nationwide strike included 1700 teachers in 22 cities and towns, which was the largest strike in the 116-year history of the kindergarten movement. It was part of a bigger campaign for conditions in kindergartens, lasting over 2 years.


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

Our organisation structure

Democracy is at the core of the NZEI Te Riu Roa structure. We seek member input at all levels, from governance through to on the ground action.

Stand up for change.

Become a member of NZEI Te Riu Roa.

Join us in calling for better pay, conditions and outcomes in the education sector in Aotearoa.