#InPerspective: Of teachers and pay claims, A call for reasonableness
With the risk of placing myself in the line-of-fire, I have decided to enter the fray on what is visibly Gibraltar’s most emotionally charged issue of the last few months: the teacher’s claim for a 29%-46% pay increase. I am doing so because the discussions thus far appear to be devoid of objectivity and clarity, leading to hyperbole and distortion, and thus confusion for the majority of tax payers.
Since the protest last Thursday, the teacher’s union has stated that the action was not only about the sizable pay increase, but about the respectability and value of the teaching profession itself. As an awareness building exercise the demonstration has certainly worked, and has quite rightly forced the wider population to reappraise the profession. State funded education is indeed a sine qua non for any modern democratic society, and educators must be acknowledged for their stellar work in providing this public good.
However, calls for supporting the profession cannot be conflated with the claim, and the taxpayer, as funder, deserves to understand the pay claim in financial terms. Indeed, the union’s original claim acknowledges this distinction through its adulation of Finnish education, which is argued to be the most desirable profession in the country, yet does not attract the salary being sought in the Gibraltar claim. In other words, the value of teachers and teaching in Finland is not measured by the remuneration received.
This is not to say teachers in Gibraltar are not due a pay review, rather we cannot confuse value of the profession with the 29%-46% pay claim.
As I understand it, the proposed pay scale (see Table 1 below), was a first move in a negotiation, and thus, ipso facto a ‘highball’. Yet even taking this into account, viewed objectively from the outside, the claim is unreasonable on the taxpayer. A close friend of mine put it in these terms, “The Union’s starting position is so out of the ballpark that it’s almost impossible to be balanced in any response. It breeds polarisation”. It is not hard to see why when the figures are broken down using the details of the claim published by the NASUWT itself.
According to the OECD’s global rankings on teacher pay, the proposed pay spine, with allowances, would catapult Gibraltar to the top of the rankings across all measures. It does so moreover, in record short time – eight years. Admittedly, the OECD rankings do not include Jersey, which is the comparator NASUWT have chosen to base their claim. Nevertheless the comparison, and justification, here is also misplaced. The union choses Gibraltar’s comparatively higher GDP per capita to propose a larger pay scale. Yet GDP is not a useful measure for a pay claim. Annual average earnings (what a person earns a year on average) prove much better in this regard. Gibraltar’s average annual earnings in 2017 was £35,166, compared to £37,960 in Jersey (2017). We also need to bear in mind that the public sector workforce is larger, per capita, in Gibraltar than in Jersey, meaning the burden of the proposal will be heavier on private sector workers here. As indeed the fact that Gibraltar compensates through certain public goods not available in Jersey, e.g. non-means tested University grants, free public transport, and subsidised home ownership – reducing and not increasing the disequilibrium between private and public sector.
In effect, teachers are asking average tax payers to accept that they begin their careers earning well over the average annual salary, and to earn double within eight years – if we use the average earnings of a private sector employee (£32,262), who will ultimately be funding the increase, the difference is even larger, and hence more unfair.
Teachers then use the argument of public sector pay relativities. Once again, the proposal is “out of the ballpark”. Nurses would never attain the proposed rate, despite dealing with shift work, and the extreme stresses of nursing. Similarly, Civil Servants (admin grades), would need to be promoted from AA to AO to EO to HEO to SEO to Senior Officer (Head of Department) to attract a salary that a teacher would attain in eight short years. This also ignores the fact that teachers still have promotion prospects after they hit their £70,000.
Many teachers will now be thinking, what about Crown Counsels? Well, ignoring the very real fact that the market, across the globe, including Jersey, where Crown Counsels earn more than here in Gib, dictates that lawyers earn more than a lot of other professions – in the same way bankers and footballers earn more than biologists and physicists –, the proposal completely erodes the differential. It suggests that teachers should actually earn a significantly higher per hour salary than government lawyers, and do so in half the time, as Crown Counsels are recruited with a prerequisite of at least five years prior legal practice. Teachers are contracted on 30 hour working weeks, and enjoy double the annual leave of public sector workers, albeit inflexibly. This means that the proposed per hour salary of a teacher (taking into account leave) after eight years (with no allowances) would be £46.34 (£56.09 with allowance), by comparison it would take a Crown Counsel at least 13 years to attain a per hour rate of £49.85 (also taking into account leave).
These figures also omit the well-known and indeed sizeable extra income some teachers receive from private lessons. From a social justice perspective, this fact naturally hits a raw nerve when considering a taxpayer funded pay claim of 29%-46%.
This brings me to the final point, afterhours work. Teachers rightly point to the many extra tasks having to be undertaken outside their 30 hours. Indeed, the OECD average (a sample of 35 developed countries) sits at around 39 hours a week. Although this is nine hours over the contracted time, it is just an hour and a half over the fulltime working week of everyone else. Moreover, teachers do not have a monopoly over working outside contracted hours. Besides, the nearly double annual leave allowance more than compensates for the 1.5 hour extra a week.
From this, any reasonable observer would agree with my friend that the union’s starting position is way out of the ballpark and risks polarising the community; a community that, like me, absolutely respects teachers.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was corrected on May 13, 2019. Due to an online production error, an earlier version of the article was published on May 8 in which the author referred to "a walkout" by teachers, suggesting wrongly that the demonstration had taken place during school time. In fact, the demonstration took place outside school hours. The reference to "walkout" in the second paragraph has been changed to "protest", in line with the version that appeared when the article was first published in print on May 7.