A fixed term agreement is when your job at a school is temporary rather than permanent. For example, you might be appointed to a full-time position at a high school to teach English for a year or you may be appointed to work on a literacy project at a high school and your employment will conclude at the end of the project.
PPTA Te Wehengarua field officers commonly become involved in disputes over the tenure of the jobs of individual teachers. Many of these could be avoided if schools followed the provisions of the relevant collective agreement.
Teacher employment agreements negotiated by PPTA contain teacher appointment provisions.
The employer must have a genuine reason, based on reasonable grounds for fixed term agreements
Fixed term teachers should have a letter of appointment setting out their terms of appointment. The letter must indicate a genuine reason based on reasonable grounds for specifying why the employment will end.
The employee must understand and agree to the reason why the appointment should end at a particular time or at the end of an event or project. This agreement should be put in writing.
The collective agreements set out the expectations for part-time and fixed-term teachers.
Basic requirements for fixed term agreements
The default status for a position is permanent. There has to be a genuine reason on reasonable grounds why it should be fixed term.
Fixed term is not appropriate if the position can reasonably be expected to continue in the foreseeable future.
Fixed term is not justified to avoid potential costs at some unspecified time in the future
Fixed term is not justified to avoid employee entitlements under the STCA
If a fixed term position is genuine then the ERA requires that the reason is given in writing and that the end of the position is also identified in writing as:
- at the close of a specified date or period;
- on the occurrence of a specified event;
- at the conclusion of a specified project.
Valid reasons for offering a fixed term agreement:
Relieving - position is a temporary replacement for a currently employed teacher on leave:
- Parental leave
- Sabbatical leave
- Study leave
- Sick leave
- Discretionary leave
- Relieving for teacher in acting-up position
The specific role is of limited duration
- Project work – appointment ends with completion of specified project
- A specific short term curriculum need
- Temporary appointment for position for which there is no on-going need from the end of this year.
- Transitional appointment – a decision about the continuance of the role has to be made pending a review. At the end of the staffing review process the position will cease or be advertised as permanent
- Transitional appointment – the role is to fill a gap before a permanently appointed teacher starts their employment.
- Where a school has received Ministry advice of a falling roll it will be required to reduce staffing. If a specific position has been identified for attrition the Board should minute the fact that it will not be continued in the year following because of a notified falling roll situation.
This situation is covered by Clause 3.9.3 (b) of the STCA which requires the employer to seek to meet any reduction by attrition (non-replacement of employees ) The employer is to review vacancies when staff surpluses are expected to arise, whereupon a partial or complete freeze will be placed on permanent appointments. However, this provision does not override the ERA.
If the school achieves staffing at or below the level indicated in its staffing notice for the following year then any further appointments can be made within the schools projected entitlement and approved operational funding as appropriate under the ERA.
If, however, staffing remains above the level indicated in the staffing notice for the following year, the school must analyse each vacancy that arises to determine if it is essential to the on-going curriculum delivery of the school. If it is, and a decision is made to replace it, then the school must:
- Seek authorisation from the Ministry of Education to make the permanent appointment as it is essential to curriculum delivery, or
- Make a fixed term appointment until the end of the current school year using the wording indicated in fixed term roll changes (above).
Short term funding
A discrete funding source of limited duration such as a one year grant for a specific purpose.
Limited Authority to Teach (LAT)
Holders of a limited authority to teach cannot be appointed on a permanent basis. Again, however, this must be clearly set out in their letter of appointment.
Examples of invalid fixed term agreements:
- No reason given or reason given is not valid (breach of the ERA).
- No end date or event (breach of the ERA).
- To determine suitability of the employee (breach of the ERA).
- Where the position is described as relieving but not replacing a currently employed teacher on leave.
- The operations grant or another regular funding source is stated as the reason for fixed term. Operationally funded positions have no less an entitlement to permanence than Ministry-funded positions.
- Board funding is stated as the reason for fixed term. Financial uncertainty is something all businesses face to a greater or lesser degree and does not, of itself, suffice in terms of the requirements of s 66(2)(a). The exception may be where the funding is from a discrete source of limited duration.
- General statements about roll change or the possibility that the roll/income may worsen at some time in the future.
- Multiple fixed term appointments when there is an attrition process in place for a smaller number of positions. (See roll changes above.)
These lists are not exhaustive – your field officer can advise on these and other situations on a case-by-case basis.
For further information on how PPTA branches, boards of trustees and schools can show their commitment to beginning teachers read about the Promise to New Teachers.
Promise to new teachers (ppta.org.nz)
The law where a fixed-term appointment is not genuine or for genuine reasons
The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement states
3.2.3 Fixed-term (non-permanent) employment
(a) Full-time and part-time teachers may be employed on fixed-term (non-permanent) basis where the employer and employee agree that the employee's employment will end:
(i) At the close of a specified date or period; or
(ii) On the occurrence of a specified event; or
(iii) At the conclusion of a specified project.
(b) Before an employee and employer agree that the employment of the employee will end in a way specified in 3.2.3(a), the employer must have genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds for specifying that the employment of the employee is to end in that way.
3.2.3 Fixed-term (non-permanent) employment
(c) The following reasons are not genuine reasons for the purposes of 3.2.3(b):
(i) To exclude or limit the rights of the employee under the Employment Relations Act 2000;
(ii) To establish the suitability of the employee for permanent employment
An employer may not employ someone on a fixed-term agreement where the job is really a permanent one and the employer really wants to avoid having to go through a fair disciplinary or dismissal procedure later on if there are problems.
Section 66 of the Employment Relations Act covers Fixed term agreements
Department of Labour guidance