30/11/2007 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News
Striking classroom assistants' union Nipsa has agreed to ballot its 3,300 members on whether to accept a pay offer from employers.
The union said its strike committee took the decision last night to hold the ballot following claims from the education boards that the majority of assistants were willing to accept the employers' offer.
Nipsa also said its strike action could be called off if the education boards "responded positively" to news of the ballot.
The union made the decision just a day before a crucial vote on the employers' offer.
Both sides in the long-running job evaluation dispute are today due to hold a meeting of the joint negotiating committee (JNC).
If a majority of union and employer members agree a deal at the JNC meeting, employers will be bound by it and must then write to individual members asking them whether or not they will accept it.
All classroom assistants - including members of Nipsa - will be contacted in writing.
Those who say yes to the deal will receive the new offer but those who say no will remain on their existing pay and receive no lump sum in back pay.
The management offer will see a regrading of all 7,000 classroom assistant jobs, with up to half of all posts upgraded at a cost of £3.5 million a year.
Existing staff who are not upgraded will receive full pay protection, which will ensure that they continue to benefit from future pay increases.
Both Unison, which represents 2,600 classroom staff, and the GMB, which has about 1,500 teaching assistants, have already backed the offer.
It is likely, therefore, that the representatives of those unions at the JNC meeting will also endorse the deal. It is not yet known what way the T&G will vote.
If all three of those unions back the offer, Nipsa will be outnumbered.
Unions have been unhappy about changes to how hourly rates for classroom assistants are calculated as well as the removal of allowances for those working with special needs children.
Failure to resolve the dispute, dating back around a decade, means about 7,000 staff are now owed millions of pounds in back payments.