About 1000 teachers have turned out for the strikes at Tauranga Race Course today for unprecedented strike action.

The strike has been coined as the "biggest strike this country has ever seen" as this is the first time in history both PPTA and NZEI union members will strike as one.

Despite the grey skies threatening to rain, morale was strong.

Fairhaven School principal Paul Hunt took to the mic, leading the crowd in chants.

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Hunt chanted, with the crowd following, "what do we want? Teachers. When do we want it? Now."

Aretha Franklin's classic anthem Respect rang over the speakers as the crowd waited to embark on the march.

Papamoa College teacher Natalie Jump was among those gathered in the crowd.

Papamoa College teacher Natalie Jump. Photo / Jean Bell
Papamoa College teacher Natalie Jump. Photo / Jean Bell

The 28-year-old was in her second year of teaching and she said it wasn't good enough for teachers to not recieve necessary support or pay.

"The strikes are important for the future generation of teachers."

Speeches are now taking place, with the crowd cheering and ringing cow bells after each speaker finishes a statement.

Parent Erika Harvey spoke of her gratitude to teachers for caring for her young daughter who had special learning needs.

Liam Rutherford was a prime negotiator with the Ministry of Education. He said it was fantastic to be here today, and to see the people who have come out today.

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He said it was great to see the community supporting teachers when they really needed it.

He said striking was not an easy decision and when workers went without their wages on strike it was a sign that the Government had really "stuffed up".

"Let's be clear - the situation we are in is serious and we need to be prepared to be in it for the long haul," said Rutherford. He didn't rule out further strike action.

People in car parks in Greerton have cheered on the marching strikers while people are tooting their horns from passing cars.

The strikers are marching down Cameron Rd and have passed the RSA chanting that Jacinda should "do them right" and "Chris Hipkins has got to go".

Protesters made their way down Cameron Rd, towards Tauranga Girls' College, where end of the march will be marked be a karakia.

Traffic in the southbound lane of Cameron Rd was virtually gridlocked for about 4km.

In the Bay of Plenty, 148 schools have shut their doors - the second highest number in the country.

The industrial action is expected to be the largest strike by teachers and first ever combined teachers' strike, with 50,000 nationwide expected on the picket lines.

NZEI Tauranga representative Andrea Andresen said the Government had left the teachers no other choice than to strike.

She said it would be the "biggest strike this country has ever seen".

Hundreds gather at the Tauranga Race Course for the teachers' strike. Photo / Jean Bell
Hundreds gather at the Tauranga Race Course for the teachers' strike. Photo / Jean Bell

Pre-march activities at the Tauranga racecourse took place from 11.30am, with balloon blowing and messages written to drop off at MPs' offices.

The rally opened with three speakers including NZEI Te Riu Roa vice president Liam Rutherford and PPTA national executive Tania Rae from 12pm.

Speeches at teachers strikes

Posted by Bay of Plenty Times on Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Tauranga City Council advised motorists to avoid the area during this time or use Takitimu Drive or Fraser St as preferred alternative routes.

Motorists who chose to travel along Cameron Rd would have to remain behind the head vehicle following the march or detour via a side road or turn around.

One of the brightly coloured signs at Tauranga's teachers' protest. Photo / Jean Bell
One of the brightly coloured signs at Tauranga's teachers' protest. Photo / Jean Bell

It was expected that the northbound lanes of Cameron Rd, between Chadwick Rd to 22nd Ave would be closed for about half an hour due to the protesters walking towards the city.

Southbound lanes, from Munro St to 22nd Ave will be closed for approximately 15 minutes to allow the protest march to cross in order to get to Tauranga Girls' College.

The NZEI strike is about pay and workload with primary teachers wanting to double non-contact time to two hours a week, reduce class sizes and increase resource teachers and a special needs co-ordinator (Senco) in every school.

One of the signs at the Tauranga Racecourse. Photo / Jean Bell
One of the signs at the Tauranga Racecourse. Photo / Jean Bell

The PPTA wants an extra hour of non-classroom time, increasing that to six hours per week, as well as additional extra non-contact time for middle managers.

The Ministry of Education has offered both unions pay rises of 3 per cent a year for three years, plus an extra step at the top of salary scales that would take the total pay rise for a majority of teachers to 12.6 per cent over three years.

The Government's offer is a $1.2 billion deal over four years.