Education Minister Chris Hipkins has accused primary teachers of increasing their demands every time the Government makes a concession.
He told reporters at Parliament that he was concerned at the way the NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) kept demanding more in the lead-up to this week's regional strikes.
Primary teachers at one of 30 strike meetings in Auckland today supported advice from their leaders to reject the Government's latest offer in the hope of reinforcements when secondary teachers are ready to strike too in the first term of next year.
Hipkins said the ability to negotiate with secondary teachers was being constrained by the action by primary teachers.
"As this process has worked through, we have been increasing the offer to NZEI and they have at the same time been increasing what they are asking," he said.
Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) members are in the middle of a round of stop work meetings ending on November 23 on what action to take after rejecting their first pay offer - 3 per cent pay increases every year for three years, or 9.3 per cent by 2020, the same deal accepted by nurses and police.
The national executives of the PPTA and NZEI will meet in Wellington on Friday to coordinate plans.
NZEI president Lynda Stuart told a strike meeting for central Auckland schools, at Alexandra Park, rejecting the latest offer would mean more strikes in 2019.
"What we are asking you to do today is to consider: do you want to accept this offer and move on, or hunker down, make it to the end of the year, and come back in 2019 for the fight of our professional lives?" she said.
"If we decide to show the ministry that their tactic of drawing it out won't work, we will have some strength coming. Our PPTA colleagues will most likely join with us in term one of 2019.
"Our national executive are meeting with theirs at the end of this week. We have their back and they have ours.
"For the first time ever, we would see professional unity with primary and secondary simultaneously committed and mobilised."
Dan Young of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School in Epsom, who spoke from the stage before media were excluded, said the Government could afford to pay more if it chose to.
"The Government has said there is no more money. To win, we will need to force the Government to change the fiscal rules they have committed to," he said.
But Hipkins said there was no more money on the table for primary teachers, and while the package could be rejigged, no more money would be offered.
"This is a very good offer," he said.
He said it was a balancing act - what went into primary teachers didn't go into special needs or to early childhood education.
"We're not going to continue to increase the amount of money indefinitely."
The NZEI should be carefully considering where it went from here and should be working with its members to "de-escalate" the situation.
"These are not insignificant sums of money we're talking about.
"We've also got issues of health, housing and welfare we've got to grapple with."
Hipkins said any changes to staffing entitlement which helps determine teacher: student ratios was outside of the bargaining process.
"It always has been. No government has ever included it," he said.
"If teachers want more classroom release time then the pay part of the offer will be affected. It is for NZEI to negotiate if they want to reshape the offer, but there is no more money available."
Stuart denied Hipkins's claim that NZEI had increased its claims through the bargaining process and said the union has asked from the start for action on workload and class sizes as well as pay.
Teachers leaving the Alexandra Park meeting said others who spoke from the floor rejected the Government's latest offer "overwhelmingly".
The offer, which the Ministry of Education costed at $698 million over three years, stuck to the standard 3 per cent a year for most teachers, but added an extra 3 per cent step at the top of the scale from 2020 which would benefit about a third of teachers, giving them a total of 12.6 per cent more by 2020.
It also offered an immediate $500 one-off payment to all NZEI primary and intermediate teachers, plus a 39 per cent jump in the maximum pay for about 1500 fulltime-equivalent teachers who do not have degrees because they trained before degrees became standard for primary teachers.
Balmoral School teachers Suzanne Preece and Lesley Payne said the pay offer was welcome, but the ministry had not offered anything to reduce their workload or class sizes.
Payne said she had been working for five weekends in a row on end-of-year reports.
"If it was just that 9 per cent at the moment I would settle for that, but it's my workload. It's about safety for children," Payne said.
Preece, who was holding a sign saying "Burnt out", said she was taking a term off next year after teaching for 15 years because she was burnt out.
"It's about mental stress. We are under mental stress," she said.
"We just heard form a young teacher teaching 37 children in one class. We need to reduce the workload and reduce the class sizes."
Cornwall Park School teacher Michelle Glynn said she was working 70 hours a week.
"I feel they have come a long way, but for the sake of the children we need support," she said.
Rowan Hopkins, a second-year teacher at Epsom Normal School, said the latest offer "addressed some of the issues but it didn't address the key issues we are facing".
"It's really hard as a beginning teacher myself to find time to enjoy life and also to teach," he said.
"For me, the workload is a key issue and it needs to be addressed - just more help, more support, more teacher aides, more teachers.
"A smaller class would be very helpful because managing 28 students, especially if you are new to it, can be difficult at times."
Earlier teachers rallying on an Auckland street corner were unimpressed by the Government's latest $700m pay offer, saying they still want action on workload and class sizes.
None of the 50 teachers and supporters at a rally on the corner of Karangahape and Ponsonby Rds thought last Thursday's pay offer from the Ministry of Education was enough.
The mood was enthusiastic as the group marched around the intersection waving flags and chanting, "Time to teach, time to lead, this is what our children need."
The NZ Educational Institute wants to double the time allowed for teacher professional development outside the classroom from one hour to two hours each week - still well below the five hours a week that secondary teachers get.
It also wants to reduce class sizes in Years 4 to 8 by lowering the teacher/student ratio from 1:29 to 1:25.
NZEI president Lynda Stuart said the ministry had not offered anything on workload or class sizes.
"They say they can't put that into a collective contract," she said.
"We just want it in our terms of settlement that they are going to address that issue. It doesn't need to happen within two years or three years, but we do need to see an indication around that."
Jo McKendrey, a Newton Central deputy principal who turned 50 today, said schools needed more teachers, better pay and more funding for students who need learning support.
"We want to attract more teachers to the profession. We are really desperate for teachers," she said.
"We actually need to make it attractive with a pay increase. It's getting harder and harder to live and work in Auckland."
Justin Barlow, who has been teaching for 24 years, said he was "seriously looking at finishing this year".
"I feel beaten," he said.
"Children bring all the social issues to school and I was not trained to do that. I was just trained to teach.
"We are all qualified with degrees, masters, and sometimes I feel that it's taken as a bit of a joke."
Trish Hadfield, a resource teacher of learning and behaviour, said schools were short-staffed and teachers were "leaving by the day".
"It's more about time to teach. Teachers are stretched so thin," she said.
Patricia Atama-Tamati, a second-year Māori immersion teacher, said her pay of $47,000 a year left her with only $200 a week after paying for rent and petrol.
"The offer is pathetic," she said.
"We are pretty much working seven days a week from the early hours in the morning to get work ready and get assessments marked. We are working around the clock - try to get quality teachers for $47,000 a year!"
Newton Central principal Riki Teteina, who was leading the chants on the microphone, said he recruited NZ teachers as principal of international schools in Thailand and Indonesia before returning to New Zealand recently.
"I have employed hundreds of teachers into international schools from New Zealand. They have left the country because they feel underpaid, undervalued and overworked," he said.
"This [offer] is not going to convince those people who have been working overseas to come back to New Zealand.
"The key things are the issues around workload and the huge amount of compliance, such as large class sizes. Teachers have tolerated this for too long."
Q&A: Strike issues
Q. What do teachers want?
A. NZEI lodged claims in April for a 16 per cent pay rise by 2019, removing a salary cap on teachers without degrees, special needs coordinators (Sencos) in all schools, doubling non-classroom release time from one hour to two hours a week, and reducing teacher/student ratios in Years 4-8 from 1:29 to 1:25.
Q. What have they been offered?
A. The latest offer is a 9.3 per cent pay rise by 2020 for most teachers, an extra step at the top of the scale making the increase 12.6 per cent for a third of teachers, and removing the salary cap for teachers without degrees.
The Government has separately agreed to fund 600 Senco positions from 2020. But Minister Chris Hipkins says teacher/student ratios have never been part of collective bargaining.
He says: "If teachers want more classroom release time then the pay part of the offer will be affected. It is for NZEI to negotiate if they want to reshape the offer, but there is no more money available."
Q. What happens next?
A. Primary teachers will hold an electronic ballot in about two weeks on whether to accept the latest offer. If they reject it, they are likely to coordinate further strikes in the first term of next year with secondary teachers.