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No end in sight as Unite strike action is set to continue impacting school transport and special schools


A Unite the Union strike at Glenveagh Special School in Belfast in April. Pic: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

A Unite the Union strike at Glenveagh Special School in Belfast in April. Pic: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

A Unite the Union strike at Glenveagh Special School in Belfast in April. Pic: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

Strike action by members of Unite the Union is due to continue throughout next week with the Education Authority warning some services will continue to face disruption as a result.

The impact will continue to be hardest on school transport and on some special schools, with some local council services also affected.

Glenveagh Special school in Belfast will continue to be closed to pupils, while Rossmar Special School in Limavady is currently taking pupils on a rotational basis, and with no end in sight to the stalemate over the pay dispute, the action could continue until the end of the summer term.

“Whilst the EA fully respects the right of staff to take industrial action, we also very much recognise the significant impact any reduction or change to learning patterns can have on children and young people, particularly those with special educational needs,” said Robbie McGreevy, Assistant Director of HR and Corporate Services with the Education Authority.

“We are working very hard to implement a range of contingency measures to minimise disruption as much as possible during this time.

“To date the measures put in place have enabled us to ensure that the vast majority of transport and school meal services continued to operate.

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“We would ask Unite to reconsider our valid and reasonable requests for exemptions for staff supporting Special School services which would help protect our most vulnerable children.”

Mr McGreevy said the ongoing industrial action by Unite the Union related to the 2021/22 NJC pay award which EA does not have the power or authority to renegotiate.

“This is because the NJC pay is negotiated and agreed nationally under agreed collective bargaining arrangements that includes 3 Trade Unions, including Unite. Local Government organisations, including EA, then implement the pay award that is agreed,” he added.

“The 2021/22 NJC pay award of 1.75% has been agreed in line with these collective arrangements and EA is now processing the new rate of pay to staff. EA is therefore unable to renegotiate.

“However, national negotiations for the 2022/23 Pay Award are about to begin and this is an opportunity to influence the future pay award and make a real difference.

"We would therefore encourage Unite to actively engage in these negotiations in a constructive and meaningful way.

“We very much value all of our staff and are committed to advocating for a fair pay offer in the 2022/23 national NJC negotiations to reflect the rising prices and pressures workers and families are facing during these very challenging times,” he said.

Unite said that, despite their constant claims to the contrary, the employers can develop local formulas that would allow an offer above the present 1.75 percent, which is way below the current real rate of inflation (RPI) of nine per cent.

Most other pay and conditions – such as overtime and public holidays - can be set locally giving scope for councils to move.

“Nobody wants to hear about what the NCJ can’t do – what we do need to hear about is how they will use the powers that they do have to deliver fair pay,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham.

“An offer of 1.75 percent is not a pay increase - it’s a pay cut and is plainly unacceptable to this union. Unite members need to see a genuine improvement to their pay and conditions. These employers can and must now deliver that.”

According to Unite, employers can adopt local agreements on pay and conditions for holidays; overtime rates; evening work; night work; Saturday or Sunday working; working on public holidays; shift work; unsocial hours; standby duty; recall to work (including travel time); and free and rest day working. Movement on any combination of these aspects could open the door to resolve this dispute.

Meanwhile, the EA has said it is committed to continued negotiations in a separate dispute on teacher pay following the announcement of industrial action by the NASUWT union.

The EA said the decision of the NASUWT to proceed with action was “disappointing and premature” having already agreed a process of ongoing dialogue and engagement with the Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council (NITC).

“We strongly believe these issues are capable of resolution without further escalation and we call on the NASUWT to stand down its action and fully commit to further time bound engagement through the Teachers’ Negotiating Committee,” EA said.

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