The First Minister came under fire after teachers rejected the latest pay offer from the Scottish Government and council body Cosla, paving the way for further crippling strikes in the weeks ahead.
Trade unions said the proposed deal offered "no real improvement" on a previous offer rejected three months ago, and would actually be worse for many members.
The Scottish Government submitted a pay offer to teachers last week that was summarily dismissed by the unions. Under that proposal, teachers earning under £40,107 would receive an increase of £1,926 per year – 6.85 per cent for those on the lowest salaries – while those on more would get 5 per cent.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon insisted it was a “fair” offer, adding: “It is, of course, the case that industrial action is in no one’s interests. It’s not in the interests of teachers, it’s certainly not in the interests of pupils, parents or carers either, who already of course faced significant disruption over the past three years.”
Labour MSP Michael Marra accused the Government of making “little effort” to address concerns.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The offer is the same as the offer that has already been accepted by other local government workers. I have nothing, but admiration for our teaching profession. They are rightly paid higher than other workers in other parts of the local government workforce.
"But the offer in terms of a pay increase that has been made to teachers is the same as that already accepted by the janitor in a school or by the dinner lady working in a school. So it is a fair offer. If accepted, it would mean that since 2018, teachers have had a 21.8 per cent cumulative pay increase.
"And lastly, we have the highest starting salary in the UK for a fully qualified teacher. Under the latest offer, a newly qualified teacher in Scotland would receive £7,400 more than counterparts in England. Our most experienced classroom teachers get £5,600 more than if they were teaching in England on the main pay range.”
In a bad-tempered exchange, Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: "So that's her message to teachers – just be grateful, you've had your lot, you're paid enough? That's not the way to treat teachers in this country.
"Playing one set of workers against another is a disgraceful way to treat those people who taught our young people though the pandemic. Isn't it about time that instead of making last-minute offers, hours before the strike deadline, that she treated teachers with the respect that they are due and gave them a decent pay offer with the budget that she has got?"
Ms Sturgeon hit back, accusing Mr Rennie of taking a “shameful tone” on such an important issue.
The NASUWT union plans to strike on December 7 and 8 – along with the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association – with action short of a strike due on December 9.
The Educational Institute of Scotland, the largest teaching union in the country, announced last week that teachers in every local authority in Scotland will walk out, two councils at a time, for 16 straight days after taking a single day of action last week. This will follow action on January 10 for teachers in primary and special schools, as well as early years, and on January 11 for those working in secondary schools and secondary special schools.