A prominent Northland principal is raising concerns with the New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF), suggesting its proposal to establish a breakaway principals’ union is misleading, divisive and would likely worsen outcomes for principals.

Pat Newman, who happens to be President of the Te Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association and NZPF member, wrote an open letter to NZPF President Perry Rush detailing his disappointment. Like most primary principals, Newman is also a member of the union NZEI Te Riu Roa.

Newman said that while many principals may have hoped for better outcomes in their contract negotiations last year, history had shown that a breakaway union wouldn’t have adequate capacity or experience to conduct proper negotiations and advocate on principals’ behalf.

He worried that the NZPF was set to repeat past mistakes.

“This is not the first time this has happened. In about 1994, the NZPF embarked on such a direction. About 800 principals signed up for it. The Executive hired a firm to carry out the process of negotiations, as NZPF did not have the resources.”

He said that any suggestion that a breakaway union could provide comparable support to NZEI Te Riu Roa was misleading.

“The end result last time was principals ended up with Individual Contracts. Those negotiated by NZPF were far inferior to those negotiated by NZEI.”

Newman also felt principals’ misunderstandings about the roles of the different organisations that support them had meant some principals had misdirected their frustrations toward their union – citing frustrations around the recent support staff settlement.

“In that situation principals needed to realise that NZSTA are the ones principals should be complaining about. It was the role of NZEI to advocate and get the best deal for Support Workers. It was the role of NZSTA to give principals the support and guidance on the issue that was left wanting.

“NZPF have touted high support for their proposal from the survey they sent to their members. But in reality, less than half of principals responded. I worry that of those who did, most of them voted in favour because the poll itself was simplistic and didn’t outline costs, dangers or any organisational details. History didn’t come into, nor did finances and costs. It was based purely on gut feelings and emotions.

“Last time NZPF experimented like this, it divided principals who were forced to choose between competing unions – and NZPF lost around 800 members in the process.”

My message to both organisations is that for the benefit of principals and our profession, they need to sit down and work through the issues and feelings involved, and come to agreements. In that way we all win.