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Minister urges teachers to call off 'futile' strike

Published 29/11/2016

The one-day strike is being held in around 100 schools in Belfast and Newtownabbey
The one-day strike is being held in around 100 schools in Belfast and Newtownabbey

Stormont's education minister has issued a last-ditch plea to teachers to call off what he branded a "futile" strike.

Peter Weir made clear no more money would be on the table and the negotiations over a long-running pay dispute were over.

The one-day strike on Wednesday is being held by members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in around 100 schools in Belfast and Newtownabbey.

Other teaching unions are currently taking industrial action stopping short of a walkout, however they plan to ballot members on escalating their protest to a strike.

Unions have rejected an offer of a 1% pay rise this year.

Mr Weir has claimed a bigger increase could only be afforded by making redundancies.

He has said he is prepared to discuss "realistic" pay proposals for 2017/18 onward but said there would be no movement on the 2016/17 salaries.

The education minister said while the majority of impacted schools would remain open on Wednesday, some would only be open for staff.

"I have made it clear that the education budget is under severe pressure and my top priority must be the children's education and protecting school budgets," said Mr Weir.

"I recognise the enormous contribution made by teachers but it is essential that I balance the demand for increased wages against protecting frontline educational services."

The minister said the strike would "severely harm the education of the children that we all seek to serve".

He added: "Whilst I recognise most schools will remain open, some will be open to staff only.

"It will cause major disruption to parents and put further pressure on other teachers and leaders that are already struggling to cope, in addition to damaging the reputation of teachers.

"The negotiations are over."

Mr Weir continued: "A day of strike will only result in the loss of a day's pay, effectively much of the 1% the unions are saying they are fighting for.

"I am therefore forced to conclude that union leaders are letting down their members by leading them into a cul-de-sac of industrial action which is futile rather than focusing on future negotiations."

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "It is with deep regret that we have been forced to move to this position, but we have been left with no choice by the blatant disregard of the minister for education for the pay and conditions of service of teachers who provide such a vital public service.

"Despite written reasonable requests to the minister, he has refused to accept that the situation teachers find themselves in has become untenable.

"As NASUWT members take the first day of strike action, the responsibility for the dispute rests entirely with the minister."

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT national official for Northern Ireland, said: "Teachers are committed and dedicated public service workers. They do not take strike action lightly.

"No teacher has any wish to inconvenience parents or disrupt pupils' education, but this action is not the fault of teachers."

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