Education Minister confirms wages may be slashed for breach of contract
Stormont's Education Minister has confirmed that teachers here could have their pay cut if they go on strike.
It comes after a ballot of members by teachers' union NASUWT resulted in 81% in support of strike action, while another union, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO)n will ballot its members on strike action next month.
Last month, school principals here were warned in a letter from Management Side - the umbrella body for teaching employers in Northern Ireland - that striking teachers could have their pay deducted as such industrial action would be classed as educators “not fulfilling the full extent of their contractual obligations and are thereby in breach of contract”.
“We have written to the [teaching union] NASUWT to request that it stands down the actions we consider to be a breach of contract," the letter said.
"We have advised that if this cannot be agreed, we will need to consider putting in place arrangements for the appropriate and proportionate deductions of salary from those teachers who are in breach of their contractual obligations."
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen was recently asked via a written Assembly question what her assessment is of reports the striking teachers could face a pay cut.
She replied: "Teachers’ terms and conditions, including pay, are negotiated by the Teachers’ Negotiating Committee (TNC). Management Side of the TNC includes representatives from the employers, sectoral interests and the Department of Education. Teachers’ Side of the TNC includes representatives from the five main teaching unions (INTO, UTU, NAHT, NASUWT and NEU).
"I understand that TNC Management Side has undertaken an assessment of the industrial action and determined that participating in the NASUWT’s action amounts to a breach of teachers’ contractual duties."
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll criticised the minister's answer.
"The Minister's answer will leave many teachers and education workers outraged at the fact that she has evaded her responsibility as Education Minister to education workers and seemingly given her approval for workers’ pay to be deducted after they take industrial action," he said.
"Despite the Minister’s attempt at evasion, it’s clear the buck stops with her. If the Minister decided that teachers' pay wouldn’t be deducted for taking part in industrial action, then this would be the order of the day.
"Instead, the Minister has followed the example set by the Tories and continued her party’s long running campaign of sticking the boot into unions generally and education workers and unions in particular.
"It is a grotesque state of affairs for the Minister to claim that industrial action is a “breach of teacher’s contractual duties”. Teachers and education workers generally have always gone over and beyond their contracts to provide education to people right across our communities (especially over the last 2 years) and not once did the Minister ever intervene or comment.
"Now the Minister appears to be giving her support to undermine workers' right to take collective action and further financially penalise them for taking action in the midst of a cost of living crisis. This is deplorable. People have a legal right to strike and take industrial action and the current laws governing trade union activity are already being cumbersome and designed to quell workers taking action.
"This latest proposal would be a further attempt to prevent workers from taking action and it should be removed from the table immediately and the Minister should make clear her intent to do so."