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Could a teacher mega-strike be on the cards?

Secondary teachers are set to strike next month, and Laura Walters reckons a megastrike with primary teachers just might be the dramatic move teachers need to secure an offer they can swallow.

The possibility of a megastrike is looming as secondary teachers set a date for action in April.

Both primary and secondary teacher unions are continuing collective negotiations. And the longer bargaining continues, the more likely it is that further strikes are on the cards.

Last year saw two strikes by primary teachers and principals, and in November, members of the secondary teachers union gave the go-ahead for a one-day strike in term one.

During the weekend PPTA announced it had set a date for a day of action: April 3.

The primary teachers union does not currently have a mandate to strike, but there is plenty of time to get the go-ahead between now and April, should they need it.

PPTA head Jack Boyle said the union was negotiating in good faith, and hoped to be able to recommend something to secondary teachers come the start of April, rather than use the day to march in the streets.

“I’m silly enough to believe that good news is always around the corner,” he said.

So far, none of the offers put forward by the ministry have been good enough to take back to members.

In the words of some secondary teachers, the three Government offers thus far have not touched the sides.

PPTA goes back into meetings for two days next week. But based on how negotiations have played out so far, it’s not a stretch to think a national strike for secondary teachers and principals will take place on April 3.

Meanwhile, NZEI is back in mediated negotiations, with three meetings last week, and another scheduled for this Thursday.

We know the sticking points: salaries, teacher numbers and retention, student-to-teacher ratios, learning support resources, and having enough teachers with the specific skills to fill gaps in specialist subjects.

While not all issues that affect secondary teachers are the same as those affecting primary teachers, there’s enough in common for the two unions to join their campaigns.

This means the chance of a strike with close to 70,000 teachers and principals could be on the agenda.

If nothing else has worked for teachers thus far, then a mega-strike just might do the trick.

It’s not what anyone wants – primary teachers are sick of striking, and secondary teachers would rather use the date for a paid union meeting.

The unions are also sympathetic to Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ position, and his genuine desire to put up a good offer, but in Boyle’s words: “we have to draw a line in the sand”.

The Prime Minister said her preference was for the parties to be at the table.

National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said it was concerning issues still hadn’t been resolved more than six months on.

Obviously no-one knows how the latest round of negotiations will play out, but there is an increasing chance of a secondary teacher strike and a primary teacher strike, Kaye said.

NZEI boss Lynda Stuart is keeping quiet through this round of mediated bargaining.

A statement from NZEI says: “While the negotiations are ongoing, we have a good faith agreement with the ministry not to discuss details or speculate on what may happen next. So Lynda isn't doing interviews at the moment.”

Last year, primary teachers took strike action twice and rejected three offers from the ministry because they believed the offers did not sufficiently address issues around time to teach and time to lead.

The latest round of bargaining, which started after the secretary of education called NZEI back to the table, comes after a breakdown in relationship between the union and the Government at the end of last year, following facilitation under the Employment Relations Authority.

If the issues can't be sufficiently addressed within the next month, expect the biggest strike the country has seen in a while.

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