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Teachers in threat to join strike action

06-11-2007


Belfast Telegraph
By Lisa Smyth

The education crisis deepened today as Ulster teachers threatened industrial action in protest at management's handling of the classroom assistant dispute, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

It is understood the province's five main teaching unions - INTO, ATL, NAS/UWT, UTU and NAHT - met with representatives from the education and library boards yesterday to express serious concerns at the contingency plans being put in place by management in the event of further strike action by Nipsa members.

The boards have asked parents and other adults to volunteer in schools during future strike action.

Under the proposals, normal vetting procedures will not be carried out but anyone who is not a member of staff working with pupils will only do so under the supervision of staff.

It had been hoped this would allow special schools across Northern Ireland - which have already closed for 10 days since the end of September - to remain open to the majority of pupils.

However, it is understood that teachers are unhappy at being asked to supervise volunteers.

A source from one of the teaching unions involved in yesterday's meeting with management said: "We would have difficulties and our members would have difficulties with these plans.

"There has been no consultation with our members. They were simply sent out protocol by the boards which is meant to be used in an emergency situation which we don't believe this is because the boards have known about it for a while. What is being asked of our members is over and above their terms and conditions.

"We have told the boards it could ultimately come to industrial action if they push ahead with the contingency plans."

A spokesman from the boards confirmed the meeting had taken place and said: " These are merely contingency plans. None of these will ever come into play if Nipsa does the decent thing and agrees to exempt special schools from future strike action, rather than continuing to target some of the most vulnerable children in our society."

Last week, talks between unions representing classroom assistants and the Education and Library Boards involving the LRA broke down without any significant progress.

While three of the unions took the latest offer to its members to consider, Nipsa rejected the offer and announced that industrial action will resume.

Members were due to meet last night to make a decision on the format and timing of further strikes.

When it became clear that some form of industrial action would resume, management vowed that special schools would not be closed by any strikes and announced that a series of contingency plans would be put in place.

However, last night's development could spell trouble for the hundreds of special needs pupils who have been caught up in the long-running dispute as it appeared they may have to remain at home in the event of further strikes.

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that 1,570 GMB members employed as classroom assistants in over 800 schools across Northern Ireland have voted in an individual postal ballot by a four to one margin to accept the final offer to conclude an agreement to settle the long-running talks on job evaluation.

Eamonn Coy, GMB senior officer in Northern Ireland, said: "GMB members in the classrooms in Northern Ireland have voted by a wide margin to accept the final offer to settle this long-running issue.

"They now look forward for wise heads to prevail in the Education Service to conclude an agreement on the current generation job evaluation scheme to get the £40m plus in the offer into their pay packets."

 

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