Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Schools braced as strike action by classroom assistants looms

Classroom assistants across Northern Ireland will begin industrial action by the end of the month if a deal cannot be brokered with the Department of Education, a union has warned.

Schools across Northern Ireland are now facing indefinite closures after almost 94% of members who cast their vote in the Nipsa ballot said they are in favour of industrial action - the latest twist in the longest running pay dispute ever in the province.

The first planned strike is due to take place on September 26, with a major rally planned to take place in Belfast on the same day.

If no resolution is found, classroom assistants will walk out for a three day period from October 2, with all out strike action commencing on October 8.

A Nipsa source last night said that members are willing to "stay out for as long as it takes, 10 years even, to get a satisfactory result".

Responding to the walk-out, a spokesman from the Department of Education said: "The Department of Education regrets the decision of classroom assistants to take strike action, which may disrupt the education of some children."

Out of the 1,086 ballot papers returned, only 72 members voted against industrial action, with 1,014 members voting in favour of the proposed strikes.

The result was considered by the Education and Library Board yesterday and the decision was taken to respond to the ballot result by calling on classroom assistant members employed by the five Education and Library Boards to take part in a period of major strike action.

Up to 7,000 staff remain caught up in the 12-year battle over pay. Nipsa has pledged its intention to secure a "fair deal" for members, who have waited more than a decade for a job evaluation exercise to be completed.

The prospect of strike action spells disaster for the education sector in Northern Ireland which is currently undergoing massive change.

The walk outs could have a massive impact on the introduction of the revised curriculum which is being introduced in schools across the province.

And Ulster schools could be hit with more walk-outs as cleaners and classroom assistants who are members of the public service union are currently voting on whether they should take industrial action.

They have already voted in favour of a strike in an indicative ballot and are now taking part in a statutory ballot on the issue.

Nipsa classroom workers' strike committee representative Janette Murdock said: "We will not allow ourselves to be driven out of our jobs without a fight and we will not walk away from our responsibility to children."

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