Minister holds talks with school strikers
Education Minister Caitriona Ruane last night met with a number of striking classroom assistants to discuss their concerns about the current pay offer.
The Minister said she used the meeting at Stormont yesterday to clarify a number of points of concern raised by the Nipsa members, including assurance that no classroom assistant will lose any pay or be forced to work more hours.
Ms Ruane had been coming under increasing pressure in recent weeks to speak to some of the thousands of classroom assistants caught up in a fight over pay and terms and conditions.
The Minister has been criticised for failing to attend a number of events, including the opening of a Sure Start centre when it emerged that classroom assistants had assembled there to stage a demonstration.
She was accused of ignoring the classroom assistants, but Ms Ruane insisted she did not want to cross a picket line.
Speaking after yesterday's meeting, Ms Ruane said: "We spoke about the dispute and our respective understanding of the revised offer of September 28. I listened to their concerns and I told them that I believed this dispute has gone on too long.
"My priority is to ensure classroom assistants receive the money they are entitled to as quickly as possible. This needs to be settled as soon as possible to avoid further disruption to the education of our children.
"A substantially increased offer has been made and I have announced a review of support staff in schools," she added.
"I emphasised that no classroom assistant will lose any pay and no-one will be forced to work longer hours. In addition, there will be full salary and pension protection. I repeated my belief that all unions should consider this offer."
Yesterday marked the third day of all-out strike action by over 3,000 classroom assistants which has led to the closure of special schools across the province and disruption to a number of mainstream schools.
No further official talks were scheduled to take place yesterday despite widespread calls for both management and the unions to meet to allow clarification of the offer on the table.
Nipsa representatives have said they will not meet the Education and Library Boards unless a better offer is proposed.
Nipsa is demanding the retention of a 32.5 hour week, the special needs allowance and recognition of NVQ level three.