Pay Equity for Librarians | Mana Taurite

Pay Equity for Librarians and Librarian Assistants is underway!

Gender based undervaluation has been established and bargaining for the claim has begun.

The issues

The 'arguability' of the pay equity claim comes down to three key points. These were deemed sufficient to indicate that the role of school librarians and librarian assistants in schools has been undervalued on the basis of gender. These points were:

  1. The consistently female-dominated workforce.
  2. The characterisation of school library work as women’s work.
  3. Occupational segregation and the feminisation of library work.

Where we're at – Term 4 2022

The Pay Equity claim for librarians and librarian assistants was raised by NZEI Te Riu Roa in November 2020. Investigation of the claim began in October 2021 and was completed in September of this year. Through this process, a gender neutral assessment of claimants and comparators was undertaken. The results of this investigation showed that school librarians have been subject to gender based undervaluation and the claim will now proceed to bargaining.

What happens next?
Now that the validity of the claim has been established, NZEI Te Riu Roa members have formed a negotiation team who underwent training in early November 2022.

Bargaining will take place from 28 November – 2 December 2022. Make sure you sign up to the mailing list or update your details to ensure you get the latest updates from bargaining as they happen.

“The best part of my job is that I get to work with students, sharing my love of reading."

Every day is different for Sasha Eastwood, who has been the school librarian and resource manager at Manchester Street School in Feilding for 14 years.

“The best part of my job is that I get to work with students, sharing my love of reading. We’ve got 17 classes, and every class comes in each week. I’m in a privileged position because our school really values the space that the library has in our school.”

However, Sasha quickly acknowledges that this kind of valuing is rare.

“I’m currently president of SLANZA [School Library Association New Zealand Aotearoa]. I’m possibly the first primary school librarian who’s been president. That’s kind of a sad reflection of where primary schools libraries are placed in our sector.”

She says that while every school has a space is that is called a ‘library’, there is no ring-fenced funding or mandate for schools to use the allocated space for a library collection.

“A school library is very much in the hands of the school leadership team and whether they see the value in having someone who’s specialised managing that space.

It saddens and frustrates me when I hear reports of schoools deciding to use their library as classroom space because of role growth or maybe because of the lack of understanding that their library is an essential reading and learning asset. There’s all these stats coming out about the falling literacy rates of our students, and then you wonder, is there a correlation there?”

Sasha believes that school librarians are well placed to aid teachers, students and whānau. She points to a recent article that published research on the importance of the library for students’ literacy rates and also for their wellbeing – libraries as a place of sanctuary for students. Access is key.

“With a school library, every student at school has direct access to a collection of books. And if you’ve got a school librarian then that collection of books will reflect that student body. I think it’s a no-brainer.”

As one of three librarians on the pay equity negotiations team, Sasha says she realised part of the process is about educating the sector about what school librarians do.

“It’s very much about bringing wages in line with the skill sets we use in our roles. That’s important – to feel valued and to have those skills recognised as wage and renumeration.

But the other thing I’m finding is that it’s also about educating the Ministry of Education about what we do. I think that’s been a real eye opener for a lot of people and probably mostly the Ministry – hearing about the variety of important skills and roles we hold in education sector.”

“I think we need to move past that, because we do need to change our priorities and our attitude to reading and literacy if we want to be back at the top of the OECD.”

As there’s usually only one librarian in a school, being a member of NZEI Te Riu Roa gives Sasha a sense of collegiality and collective power. She says Term 4 is tricky and uncertain time for support staff, because their role comes under the ops grant. For her, being part of a union is a form of employment insurance.

“If something happened or if there was a change of value put into my role or any employment-based incident I know that at the end of the phone I’ve got immediate support. That’s really important.”

“Our job is to be a reading engagement expert”

Clare Forrest has just come out of two days of negotiating training for the school librarian pay equity claim. She says she enjoys the process and describes it as "collaborative and non-confrontational". The union negotiators train together with the Ministry of Education.

“It’s about both sides winning. We have to look at the issues and come up with a solution.”

Clare is hopeful that the pay equity settlement will solve some of those issues, and that librarians will be recognized for the skills they have.

“As a female-dominated sector, we’ve been undervalued and underpaid ever since we’ve been around. At the School Library Association of NZ Aotearoa, we found a submission that they’d written about pay equity 20 years ago and it still holds true today.”

She would also like to see more certainty around their employment.

“It’s a very nervous time for school librarians when your principal leaves because you do not know if the new principal is going to support you or not. It comes down to the board and the principal whether you’ve got a job. Career-wise it makes for a lot of uncertainty. You can solve that problem by funding school libraries and librarians centrally.”

Clare points out that that literacy levels are dropping in New Zealand and says that every school having a library and librarian could help with that.

“Our job is to be a reading engagement expert. Teachers are about teaching children how to read, and we’re about making sure they do and that they love it. We’re experts at finding the right resources and making sure we get them into the hands of akonga.”

“For instance, we’ve got these fantastic books that are aimed at dyslexic students. They’re written by the same authors who write all the other novels, and they look good. We mix them up with all the other books because there are times when people don’t want to be singled out as different. How students choose a book is important. You need all of them to be able to see themselves as readers and know they can succeed.”

One of the big changes in libraries over the last 15 years has been the growth in the graphic novel and comics collection.

“They are the most popular reads in our school. We’ve worked hard at ensuring that our staff and parents understand that reading a graphic novel is complex reading.”

Being a union member is something Clare has always done, whatever job she’s been in – whether that be as a science technician, a nurse or a school librarian, the job she’s been in for the last fifteen years at Rāroa Normal Intermediate School.

“I know it’s us members who are the union. We need to do the mahi if things are going to change, hence signing up to help do the pay equity work. It just felt like an important thing to do for women, and for me personally – it feels like It’s an important part of changing history.”

Equal pay for equal work

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