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Nipsa 'not hopeful' of strike ending

By Maureen Coleman

Published 03/10/2007

Further talks were being held today between employers and trade unions in a bid to resolve the dispute involving school classroom assistants.

Disruption was expected at schools across the province again today as classroom assistants continue their strike over pay.

The three-day stoppage, which began yesterday, came after Nipsa rejected the latest offer from management.

After an initial one-day strike last week, which shut special schools and forced many primary schools to close at lunchtime, management met with unions to discuss a new offer.

However, Nipsa said the offer did not go far enough. The union has also warned that unless its needs are met, its members will take part in an " all-out indefinite strike" next week.

A spokesman for Nipsa said the union would consult its members on every detail of the offer from employers. But he said he did not hold out much hope for a successful outcome.

"On the basis of previous negotiations, I don't see much hope," said a Nipsa spokesman.

"If talks between management and Nipsa break down, the situation will remain as it is. Our members will continue to strike tomorrow and we will go ahead with an all-out indefinite strike on October 8."

The union is unhappy because it claims the new offer from management amounts to a one-off payment of just over £2,000 to each classroom assistant to cover reduced hours and the loss of a special needs allowance.

In a letter to members following last week's strike action, Nipsa said the new offer was the same as the old with the exception of an additional £15m to cover a one-off payment.

The union said: "Clearly this offer is nowhere near our claim. It is, however, significant that management have been forced to make an additional £15m available after just one day of strike action."

However, a spokesman for management described the offer as "fair and equitable".

He said it was impossible to predict the outcome of further negotiations between management and trade unions, but said management had put forward " the best offer" it possibly could.

He also said that no individual classroom assistant would suffer as a result of the settlement.

He added: "We would like every classroom assistant in Northern Ireland to be fully aware of the terms of this offer because we believe then that the majority of them will accept it."

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