Teachers' obligation to pupils paramount
There is no doubt that many teachers in Northern Ireland are feeling undervalued at the moment, hence the planned strike by one union and the pickets carried out by four others. Pay, workload and job security are among the concerns listed.
Teachers have traditionally held a position of respect, and rightly so, as their job is to educate succeeding generations and help pupils with their personal development so that they can make a meaningful contribution to society in the future. Obviously, at this time, many teachers feel they are not being treated fairly by their employers and, in the case of the NASUWT, it believes its members' only recourse is to take industrial action.
That is the union's right provided it abides by the legislation governing such action. In a democratic society teachers, like other workers, have the right to withdraw their labour.
But given the pivotal role of teachers it should be a decision of last resort. They have an important duty to the children placed in their care and nothing should be done, except in extremis, which puts that duty in jeopardy.
Tactically, the NASUWT has made a mistake by publishing a list of 232 schools across Belfast and Newtownabbey which it claims would be impacted by its strike at the end of this month.
That information is wrong, as several schools on that list have been at pains to point out to this newspaper.
A number said there were no members of the union among their staff. When the error was pointed out, the union, rather than apologise, said it was up to parents to ascertain if the school their children attended would be affected.
That is an arrogant approach to take. It is up to the union to say where its industrial action will take place, not for parents to ring up schools, or for schools to waste time saying they are not affected. By publishing an inaccurate list, the union is putting a lot of people to a lot of bother.
Obviously, parents will be concerned if strike action impacts on their children's school as they would then be faced with childcare problems if both parents are working. They may be fortunate to have grandparents who can step in to the breach, or they may simply have to take time off work.
While teachers are not barred from strike action like the emergency services, they must take heed of their primary duty to their pupils, and certainly should do all possible to minimise disruption.