Schools could be facing further disruption after members of one of Northern Ireland’s leading teaching unions voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in a dispute over pay, workload and adverse working conditions.
A ballot of members by the NASUWT resulted in 81% of papers returned in support of strike action, with 98% in support of action short of strike action.
The result follows a recent survey of members which found the vast majority of NASUWT members expressed concerns about the failure of the Department of Education and the employers to deliver on the 2020 Agreement. Nearly three-quarters (74%) said their workload had increased significantly in the past two years.
And, in a sign of the retention challenges facing the profession, 54% said they were seriously considering leaving teaching.
“Members have delivered an emphatic and unequivocal message in voting for industrial action. There is deep anger at the inadequate pay and the ever-increasing workloads faced by teachers,” said NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach.
“This strength of feeling must now be recognised and the pay, workload and working conditions must be addressed by the education minister.
“Teachers wish to avoid industrial action, but they have been left with no choice by the derisory pay offer and the failure to tackle spiralling workloads. Our members are strong and united and they are saying they will no longer tolerate the damage being done to education and to their working lives.”
Justin McCamphill, NASUWT’s national official for Northern Ireland, said there was little alternative for teachers other than to serve notice of the intention to instigate industrial action.
“Today’s ballot result must be a wake-up call to the minister, who has singularly failed to deliver the fair pay and working conditions that teachers need and deserve,” he said.
“This is a strong and united result from our members.
“We will now enter a sustained period of industrial action across Northern Ireland’s schools and details of the industrial instruction will be sent to employers and members imminently.
“The derisory pay offer we saw in February has been a kick in the teeth to the profession and is serving to make recruitment and retention of teachers harder at a time when we desperately need them.
“The lack of action to address serious concerns over workload just adds insult to injury.”
Last month Gerry Murphy, Northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) union, described the pay offer as “inadequate and insulting” to the people who kept schools open during what were probably the worst two years of their careers.
“INTO members have been central to society’s response to a pandemic which rocked every aspect of everyone’s lives for two years,” said Mr Murphy.
“In spite of the health war raging through society, teachers and school leaders have been the real-life heroes in terms of continuing to provide children with an education regardless of the extreme challenges they faced.
“Our members put their professional responsibilities before their own needs, and those of their families, as they worked incredibly hard to ensure all our children and young people continued to have teaching and learning made available to them.”
Mr Murphy said the offer from employers fell well below what the teaching profession expected or deserves.
“Their reward for teachers has been a derisory pay offer which calls into question the value that the Stormont administration and the employing bodies place upon them,” he said.
“It’s also the case that the offer, which in real terms was nowhere near the 3.2% over two years that the minister of education has been claiming, makes no allowance for the current state of inflation.
“The offer made was both inadequate and insulting. The figures themselves are frightening and will see teachers suffer, along with every other public service worker, as they struggle to make ends meet.
“This offer does not reflect the vital role that teachers have played in keeping our society and economy functioning over the course of the pandemic,” he added.
“The union is not prepared to stand by and allow our members to be treated in such an off-hand manner.
“We will continue to seek an acceptable resolution to this problem with the employers and the Department of Education, but should we be unable to reach such a resolution we have other options.”