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Teaching union ATL rejects strike actionin Northern Ireland schools

By Rebecca Black

A teachers' union has voted by a large majority against strike action, it can be revealed.

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 with the Education Authority over pay.

The vote comes after 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.

Three other teachers' unions - ATL, UTU and INTO - announced their intention to ballot members over strike action.

The outcome of the INTO and UTU ballots are expected to be announced today. 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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