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Teachers' strike: INTO members vote in favour of Northern Ireland action - half-day strikes to begin in January

'We will continue to remain available to engage meaningfully with the education Employing Authorities and the minister'

Teachers' union INTO has voted in favour of strike action in Northern Ireland due to an ongoing pay dispute.

Members of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, the largest teachers' union in Ireland, voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in January.

The union, which has 7,000 members across Northern Ireland, said that 95 percent voted in favour of short strike action in Thursday's ballot.

Seamus Hanna, chairman of INTO's Northern Committee, said: "INTO has taken every possible measure to avoid the closure of schools. 

"We constructively entered into talks to find a just and reasonable pay deal but this was met with an imposed award which provides no salary increase for teachers for the year 2015/16 and an imposed 1 per cent for 2016/17. 

"Teachers remain the only group within education to be denied any increase for 2015/16.

"It needs to be made clear that Minister Peter Weir MLA has subsequently attempted to confuse the public by presenting a contractual salary entitlement paid to just nine per cent of young teachers as a pay increase for all teachers.

"Despite the sincerity of our efforts all attempts to find a just settlement and avoid the closure of schools have now failed.

"The INTO is now directed by our members to engage in both, half day strike action and, in action short of strike, which will include non co-operation with the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).

"Action short of strike, involving the ETI, will commence on January 6, 2017 and will involve INTO members withdrawing all co-operation with the ETI. This action will be followed up with a series of half day strikes - the first of which will take place on January 18, 2017 with future dates to be confirmed."

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Gerry Murphy, the union's Northern Secretary said: "The INTO is now mandated by its members to engage in a programme of action that is aimed at securing a just and fair pay settlement for our members.

"We will continue to remain available to engage meaningfully with the education Employing Authorities and the minister.

"The ball is in their court."

The vote comes as members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in Northern Ireland - one of the smaller unions - voted by almost 70% against walkouts following disagreements over pay.

Members of the NASUWT engaged in strike action at schools across Belfast and Newtownabbey last month, which caused some schools to close and sparked general confusion among parents.

The union has threatened more strikes in other areas of Northern Ireland in the new year. In October all teaching unions in Northern Ireland rejected an offer that would have seen their pay frozen last year and a rise of 1% for 2016-17.

In the ATL ballot, 32.5% of valid ballot papers were returned. Just 30.5% of these voted for strike action, with 69.5% voting against.

ATL members did, however, vote for industrial action short of striking. Some 83.9% voted yes, and 16.1% voted no.

ATL director in Northern Ireland Mark Langhammer said although members did not vote to strike they remained frustrated at the pay stand-off.

"ATL is traditionally moderate, reflective and reasonable," he said of the union, which has a relatively small membership of 3,260 here.

"We have had one strike day in 130 years. The outcome of our balloting process is in line with our internal polling and expectations."

He added: "Teachers in Northern Ireland are paid 16% below the OECD average. Since the pay freeze in 2010-11 teachers' pay, in real terms, has reduced significantly."

ATL's industrial action will be announced to employers to take effect in the new year and will include complete non co-operation with the Education and Training Inspectorate, and refusal to undertake needless accountability, bureaucracy and administration, the exact nature of which is to be determined at individual school level.

ATL has indicated members will cease the planned action when teachers are awarded a 1% cost of living rise for 2015-16, a multi-year pay deal to the end of the Assembly mandate is agreed, and when there is an independent professional arbitration panel as the end-point of the ETI's complaints system.

Education Minister Peter Weir has previously urged the NASUWT to call off its planned strike, saying it will be "detrimental" to pupils and union members.

He also claimed the teaching unions had initially sought an annual pay rise of 8.23%, including increments, before reducing their demands to 3%.

He added there was no more money in his budget to increase teachers' pay.

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