Teacher Mega Strike: What's It All About?

teacher strike.jpg

By Georgia Osmond

On May 29th of this year, over 50,000 primary and secondary school teachers combined for the largest industrial strike in the New Zealand education sector.[1] This was the result of a year of negotiations with the Ministry of Education leading to inadequate offers from the government to assist the education sector in its crisis. The overwhelming belief of the majority of the public is that teachers only want a pay rise, and the offers made by the government are insufficient. This, however, fails to recognise the underlying issues within the teaching profession, in particular the recruitment and retention of teachers, excessive workloads placed on teachers outside of school hours and the lack of funding and resources.

What do teachers want from the government?

The claims for teachers, put forward by the collective union NZEI Te Riu Roa and the secondary school teacher union PPTA, focus on the teacher shortage, excessive workload, retention of teachers, and lack of resources. To reflect the extra time and effort teachers put into teaching, as well as hours outside of the school day preparing for lessons and undertaking other responsibilities, the unions argued that teachers should receive a pay rise. It is important to remember that this is a smaller part of their wider negotiations with the Ministry of Education, and is not the only aspect they have been arguing for.

The Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group Report produced in 2016 was part of the settlement for the 2015-2018 Collective Agreement and established many of the recommendations the Working Group felt were important to be considered by the government. Important findings of the Working Group report included that 45.4% of teachers were over 50 years old; that just under half of secondary teachers leave the profession within the first five years, and that the gradual increase in school roll numbers will require an extra 1100 teachers by 2027.[2] Many of the recommendations from the Working Group report became part the claims of the PPTA in their Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2018.

NZPPTA Claims for Secondary Teacher’s Collective Agreement Bargaining 2018

 The report recognised the two main issues secondary teachers are facing: supply issues and workload.[3] The general concern of the PPTA was that the pressures placed on teachers was unsustainable and that the numbers of teachers leaving the profession, especially those in specialist areas, needed to be addressed by the government.[4] Due to the excessive workload placed on teachers, in particular requiring them to work after the school day for long periods of time, was a deterrent for people considering becoming a teacher. The only way for these issues of supply and workload to be properly addressed was for pay and working conditions in general to be dealt with appropriately.[5]

The claim of the PPTA and NZEI that receives most media attention is the desire for a pay rise. In their 2018 claim, the PPTA argued that when deciding on a career, graduates will tend to choose the path that will provide them with the most stable and long-term earning income. When considering the income of teachers compared to that of other professions in New Zealand, the PPTA found that teacher’s salaries have not drastically changed. In 2016, the Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group found that the salaries of New Zealand teachers were 3% lower than graduates with similar qualifications in other professions.[6] As a result, the PPTA argued that teachers should receive a pay rise of 15% over a year with the possibility of on-going increases through a salary adjustment mechanism.[7]

Another concern for the PPTA and NZEI is the lack of teachers moving into more rural areas and regions outside of Auckland. This is in part due to the higher costs of living in some places, which discourages people from moving. As part of their claim, the PPTA recommended that if teachers rented in an area where the median weekly rental exceeded 110% of the national median weekly rental, they would be entitled to a rental allowance.[8] If teachers purchased a home instead of renting, the allowance would instead go towards paying off their mortgage over the first 3 years. The idea was that if this accommodation allowance was given, it would encourage more people to both become teachers and to stay on as teachers.

In order to reduce the workload on teachers, one of the other main concerns of the PPTA and NZEI, the claim was made for greater non-contact time with children. The amount of non-contact time teachers have with students has not changed since 2006.[9] By giving teachers more time off to do administrative tasks, this would enable teachers to both decrease their workload and provide them with the work-life balance many of them have been missing. The PPTA recommended that the non-contact time allocated for teachers be increased from 5 to 6 hours a week.[10]

NZEI Claims

Similar to the PPTA, NZEI focused on four main issues: crisis in education, time and workload, issues with salaries and relativities, and career development. To encourage more graduates to become teachers, and also to retain those already in the profession, NZEI want significant pay increases. This has been set at a 16% pay increase over the two years of the agreement and the renewal of pay parity clauses.[11]

To deal with the issue of excessive workload, NZEI demanded significant staffing increases. This included the provision of staffing and resourcing entitlements to enable school to employ and train special education needs coordinators; the opening of more resource teacher positions; reduction of the teacher: student ratio to 1:25; increasing the professional leadership staffing entitlement; replacing the classroom release time with professional practice time; and providing more teacher resourcing to allow teachers to complete other tasks.[12]

The possibility of career development was another concern NZEI addressed. Recommendations in this area included change existing pay arrangements for principals, fixing relativity issues for salaries, and providing meaningful career options for those wanting to progress further.[13]  

While pay increases are the main concern of teachers, there are other significant issues that are just as important and are hindering teachers from doing the best job they possibly can.

History of the negotiation process with the Ministry


Negotiations with the Ministry began for principals in April 2018, followed by primary school teachers in May. The initial offer by the government was for a 2.2-2.6% pay increase each year for three years for primary school teachers.[14] Considering the desire of teachers for a 16% pay increase, this was quickly rejected. Following overwhelming support from its members, NZEI held a full day strike on August 15th. This was the first industrial strike taken by NZEI since 1994.[15]  The Ministry then provided a second offer to NZEI which was also resoundingly rejected. After a series of secret ballot votes held in October, rolling strikes throughout November were decided upon. These took place from November 12th until November 16th.[16] No further action was taken by NZEI until the joint mega strike in May of this year.


Discussions began in August 2018 and turned into negotiations with the Ministry when the collective agreement expired. The initial offer from the government was rejected by the PPTA in October, as PPTA President Jack Boyle stated that “the offer did not go anywhere near addressing teacher shortages.”[17] Following this rejection, the PPTA requested another offer from the government. If this offer was inadequate or did not eventuate, the PPTA made it clear that industrial action would likely follow.  

The second offer provided by the government was rejected during meetings held between November 7th-23rd.[18] At this point, NZEI and the PPTA agreed to campaign together to try and receive better pay. After the rejection of the second offer, strike action in term one of 2019 was authorised,[19] while the government was also given one final opportunity to provide better offers.

The third and final government offer was, according to PPTA President Jack Boyle, better than the second offer, but still failed to adequately address the teacher shortage issue.[20] This final offer and rejection confirmed that strike action would take place in 2019.

What now?

The Education Minister Chris Hipkins has stated that the $1.2 billion offer, which is split into $698 million for primary school teachers and $498 million for secondary school teachers, is one of the largest offers that has been made to anyone in the public sector.[21] He has also stated that this would be the last offer teachers would receive, as he claims that if the demands of NZEI and the PPTA were to be adequately met, it would cost the government almost $4 billion.[22] While it is now the responsibility of the Labour-led government to deal with the aftermath of serious underfunding provided to education in the previous government, Hipkins has argued that the current government is doing the best it can with the money it is able to spend.

This has not sat well with the unions, who see it instead as a massive failure and lack of understanding for the plight of teachers. The Budget, released a day after the mega strike, did not mention strategies to deal with teacher shortages or the lack of resources the profession faces.[23]

Strike action is still set to continue, with rolling strikes beginning on June 4th and ending on July 2nd.[24] This is set to affect both students, parents, and non-union teachers, but it must be done for the government to take a considered look at what teachers are asking of them. As the profession responsible for assisting with the development and nurturing of New Zealand’s children, greater assistance must be given to teachers to encourage people to enter the profession and stay there.

 Header image sourced from RNZ

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[1] Damian George “Teachers vote to stage largest ever strike as negotiations with Ministry stall” (13 May 2019) Stuff <www.stuff.co.nz>.

[2] “Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group Report” (August 2016) at 5-6.

[3] “New Zealand PPTA Claims for Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement Bargaining 2018” (7 August 2018) at 2.

[4] At 2.

[5] At 3.

[6] “Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group Report” (August 2016) at 30.

[7] “New Zealand PPTA Claims for Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement Bargaining 2018” (7 August 2018) at 6.

[8] At 8.

[9] At 13.

[10] At 14.

[11] “Campaign Plans, Claims and Negotiations” NZEI <https://campaigns.nzei.org.nz>.

[12] “Campaign Plans, Claims and Negotiations” NZEI <https://campaigns.nzei.org.nz>.

[13] “Campaign Plans, Claims and Negotiations” NZEI <https://campaigns.nzei.org.nz>.

[14] PPTA News “Primary teachers meet to consider government’s pay offer” (June-July 2018, 39:4), at 15.

[15] Jessica Long “A year of stalled negotiations leaves teachers and principals at an ‘impasse’” (4 June 2019) <www.stuff.co.nz>.

[16] Jessica Long “Why primary teachers and principals’ negotiations have led to strike action” (12 November 2018) Stuff <www.stuff.co.nz>.

[17] PPTA Media Release “Secondary teachers meet to discuss government’s offer” (2 October 2018) PPTA <ppta.org.nz>.

[18] PPTA Media Release “Teachers reject another inadequate government offer” (5 December 2018) PPTA <ppta.org.nz>.

[19] PPTA Media Release “Secondary teachers vote to reject government offer” (26 November 2018) PPTA <ppta.org.nz>.

[20] PPTA Media Release “Teachers reject another inadequate government offer” (5 December 2018) PPTA <ppta.org.nz>.

[21] Damian George “Teachers vote to stage largest ever strike as negotiations with Ministry stall” (13 May 2019) Stuff <www.stuff.co.nz>.

[22] “Government’s latest $1.2b offer for teachers ‘best in a decade’” (7 May 2019) Stuff <www.stuff.co.nz>.

[23] Liz Robinson “Budget 2019 fails to fix teacher shortages” (30 May 2019) PPTA <ppta.org.nz>. 

[24] Danielle Clent “NZ secondary school teachers’ strike June 4: Everything you need to know” (4 June 2019) Stuff <www.stuff.co.nz>.