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Union talks to determine school assistants’ action

31-10-2007

The Irish News

Unions involved in a long-running dispute by classroom assistants will today begin discussions which will determine whether or not they go back out on strike.

Members of the Nipsa union called a halt to their indefinite action two weeks ago to facilitate talks between unions and employers. These negotiations were wound up yesterday.

The union had warned that it would resume strike action if it was not satisfied with the outcome of intensive face-to-face talks with management.

Nipsa's negotiators are expected to begin meetings with members today before deciding the way forward.

Unions have been unhappy about the removal of allowances for those working with special needs children as well as changes to how hourly rates for classroom assistants are calculated.

Failure to resolve the dispute - dating back around a decade - has meant that about 7,000 staff are now owed millions of pounds in back payments.

Nipsa members spent time on strike, forcing special schools to close. Unison, the GMB and the T&G, the other unions involved, had put the latest employers' offer to members.

Nipsa suspended its strike action and agreed to talks, which took place during the paswo weeks. These focused on special-needs allowances, the calculation of hourly rates of pay and NVQ level three qualifications.

The other three unions also suspended the outcome of their consultations with their members on the management offer while the discussions were held.

Nipsa officials said last night that they would meet members today to discuss the detail of the talks.

The union has already warned that strike action could resume after October 30 "if a satisfactory revised offer is not secured".

Under the latest deal there will be 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. No single classroom assistant will have their pay cut.

In addition, all existing staff who are not upgraded will receive full pay protection, which will ensure that they continue to benefit from future pay increases.

Frank Bunting, northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, said he hoped the negotiations had been fruitful.

"There is enormous support from the public and the Northern Ireland Executive for the classroom assistants' case," he said.

"They now need to reflect carefully and consider the best possible way to bring their case to a successful conclusion."

 

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