News

Local teachers to vote on strike action

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A NUMBER of local teachers took to the picket lines last week in protest over an 'insulting' pay offer from the government.

It comes after 13 months of failed talks between the Northern Ireland Teaching Council (NITC) and the Education Authority. The talks ended last month with the five unions walking out over a 1 per cent pay rise offer for 2016-17 and no pay rise for last year.

Following this, in a letter to members from the four main unions, INTO, ATL, UTU and NAHT, it said the first course of action would take place on Tuesday (8 November) when teacher union members in schools were asked to come together and demonstrate at the school gates - at lunchtime for post-primary schools and end of school for primary schools.

The action was to highlight the "insulting pay offer" and how lack of funding is impacting on the education service.

Teachers from 60 primary schools and secondary schools across Northern Ireland took part in the picket action, including five schools from this area.

These schools were St Patrick's Primary School (Hilltown), Kilkeel Primary School, St Mary's Primary (Banbridge), Iveagh Primary School (Rathfriland) and Dromara Primary School.

Teachers at the picket lines handed out leaflets to parents urging them to ask their local MLA why Stormont does not put a value on education.

And in advance of the picket last Tuesday, a joint letter from all four unions was sent to the Board of Governors of each school notifying them that the demonstration was taking place and asked for their support by writing to the Education Minister highlighting the funding situation.

Cathy Crozier, who is a southern area union representative and full-time teacher, delivered leaflets to St Patrick's Primary School, Ballymaghery and three other schools in and around Newry.

She says following the picket the union will ballot members for strike should no agreement be possible with the employers and the department.

“The action is the start of our campaign in protest against our lack of a pay rise which has been ongoing from 2011. In that time our wages have gone down by 15 per cent, which means we are now working one day per week for free.

“The Department of Education have withheld a pay rise for 2015/16 and their offer of one per cent for 2016/17 is an insult to teachers. We're not asking for something we're not entitled to: all other education workers got a rise for 2015/16," she said.

The union rep says the education system is at breaking point due to lack of funding.

“Classroom assistants' hours have been cut right back, so children with additional educational needs are left with little or no support in mainstream classrooms; on top of this teachers are being made redundant and not replaced, which is increasing the impossible workload they are already struggling to cope with."

Meanwhile, Gerry Murphy, the northern secretary of INTO (Irish National Teachers' Organisation), which represents union members from St Patrick's Primary and St Mary's Primary says the pay rise offer amounts to less than the price of a litre of milk per day.

And following the picket, a letter was then sent to members from Mr Murphy, adding: "There can be no doubt as to the pride teachers take in our young people, schools and profession.

“The protests have sent a clear message to government - INTO teachers, along with fellow ATL, NAHT and UTU co-workers refuse to be undervalued.

“Despite the poor weather and demands of the working day hundreds of INTO members across the north took a stand at their school gates to engage with parents and the public."

He says the air time and column inches devoted to the campaign is thanks in no small part to the motivation and consensus across the profession to challenge what what can only be described as "a miserable pay offering".

Avril Hall-Callaghan, chairperson of UTU (Ulster Teachers' Union) which represents union members from Kilkeel Primary School, Iveagh Primary School, and Dromara Primary School said teachers in Northern Ireland should be treated fairly.

“We are rightly proud of our educational standards in Northern Ireland. Teachers here deserve to be treated fairly in return. Teachers in Scotland did not have this kind of demoralising decision made by their political masters. The Scottish Parliament awarded them a 2.5 per cent staged pay deal last year. We have asked that the Minister consider a staged deal as a way forward in this dispute," she added.

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