Insecure employment – when it is not lawful
Kim was offered a job as a maths teacher on a fixed-term basis for one year. The stated reason for the position being fixed-term, was roll uncertainty. Kim was disappointed as she was wanting to buy her first home and the bank would not approve a mortgage unless she was permanently employed. As it happened, things worked out for Kim who was offered a permanent position at another school, which she accepted.
This situation however got Kim thinking and researching about fixed-term employment and what it meant for her and others. Kim discovered that that there is a legal obligation on schools to appoint teachers to permanent positions unless there are genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds for the position to not be permanent. There are limited reasonable grounds that can exist such as covering a position for a person on approved leave.
The roll uncertainty reason Kim had been given for the fixed-term job was vague and she thought probably spurious.
Genuine reasons on reasonable grounds
Would the stated reason of roll uncertainty have met the legal requirement of being a genuine reason based on reasonable grounds? In seeking to answer this question, Kim discovered an Employment Court case called Morgan v Transit Coachlines Wairarapa Limited relevant to her situation.
Mr Morgan was a bus driver doing school runs. He was employed by Transit Coachlines on a fixed-term basis year after year on the basis of uncertainty of ongoing Ministry of Education funding. Mr Morgan wanted to have his position made permanent.
The court found that Mr Morgan should be permanently employed. The court said that the reasons Transit Coachlines had given Mr Morgan, around uncertainty of funding was speculative, and not grounds to make an employee fixed-term. Kim also read in the Morgan case that financial uncertainty of itself is not a reason for an employer making any position fixed-term, otherwise virtually job could lawfully be fixed-term, which was plainly not the intention of parliament when it passed the legislation.
Kim realised that the reason of possible roll fluctuation that she had been given by the school was not a valid reason.
Maintaining a stable teaching workforce
Sometimes field officers see reasons being given for fixed-term tenure such as schools being dependent on external funding sources and uncertainty of student numbers. The Morgan judgment reinforces the point that such reasons, if given, would require much greater explanation and scrutiny, as in and of themselves such reasons would not meet the threshold for making an employee fixed-term.
This issue is important in maintaining a stable teaching workforce and also in upholding the rights of individual teachers. Teachers employed on a fixed-term basis lack security in their employment. It can also have ramifications around teacher registration, and there also are some provisions in the Collective Agreement that are not available to fixed-term teachers, for example accessing maternity leave and study awards.
When in doubt, ask your field officer
If you see fixed-term advertisements in your school that could be for spurious reasons, then through your branch you can ask why the position is fixed-term. Contact your local field officer for support on how best to raise concerns. Teachers in, or being offered, fixed-term employment who are concerned the reasons may not be legally valid can contact your local field officer for support.
For more detail on genuine reasons for fixed-term appointments read: