Schools across Northern Ireland were last night facing widespread disruption after the result of a ballot by thousands of classroom assistants showed they plan to strike.
Members of Unison, including classroom assistants and school cleaners, have voted in favour of industrial action in an indicative ballot and will now take part in a statutory ballot on the issue.
Unison's Lily Kerr revealed that if industrial action goes ahead, members say they will not return to work until a satisfactory resolution on the pay dispute is found.
The result of the ballot is the latest development in the longest ever running pay dispute in Northern Ireland and comes days before a decision is expected from Nipsa on whether its members will strike over the issue.
If Nipsa and Unison vote for industrial action, schools across Ulster will be affected indefinitely.
Ms Kerr explained: "Unison is now in the process of setting up members' meetings and school visits in preparation for the next part of the process, which is the statutory ballot that is required under employment legislation."
Reacting to the results of the ballot, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane reiterated that she believed it is in the best interests of children for classroom assistants and employers to work together to resolve the issue.
" I have met with the chief executives of the Education and Library Boards and representatives of the trade unions and have told them this issue needs to be resolved," she added.
In respect to the matter concerning school cleaners, a spokesman for the Department of Education said: "The Department has not been directly involved with the school cleaners' dispute, as responsibility for their pay lies with the Education and Library Board as the employing authorities.
"The department understands that the job evaluations for cleaners have been completed although the outcomes are currently under appeal by the unions.
"Cleaners, however, have been transferred on to new rates of pay pending the outcome of the appeal."