Northern Ireland teachers could strike if authorities renege on pay deal, union warns
Teachers could be set to go on strike next year if a pay agreement struck six months ago is not honoured.
Justin McCamphill from the union NASUWT said there is growing frustration among its members and a real chance that if the funding for an agreed pay offer is not released ahead of teacher union conferences next year, members will go on strike.
He said: "I think members aren't prepared to wait and are making their voices heard to us.
"We are going to reach the point where things will explode in schools. Teachers will just say they've had enough.
"If there's not progress soon, there's a real danger that this could all fall apart and we would expect that our members will be then calling on us to take further industrial action.
"If the Department of Finance doesn't fund it, it's not tenable that we would stay hanging on forever. We don't have a deadline in mind, but I'd say we're very quickly reaching a crisis point."
In June it was reported that teaching unions and employers had reached an agreement in principle to end long-running industrial action with a pay offer of 4.25% over two years.
According to a draft seen by the BBC, teachers would get a backdated pay award of 2.25% for 2017-18 and 2% in 2018-19, with the cost of the package estimated at £70m.
Mr McCamphill said: "The state of play is that we are waiting anxiously for the Department of Finance to fund the offer that's there. We think that the draft agreement which we've struck is certainly an improvement on where teachers were before.
"Our members would be giving full consideration to that, but it's untenable to expect us to keep going on with no actual offer to make to members.
"It's six months ago, so clearly there's a lot of frustration from teachers. Many of them, especially since the health workers went on strike, we've had an increase in the flow of email traffic asking what's happening.
"It has stimulated members to get in contact and actually ask, 'What's happening with ours?'
"And ours is actually a pay deal for 2017 to August 2019, so we're now into a new pay year and we haven't even begun negotiating for it.
"There has been a draft agreement in relation to pay and workload, but it's subject to funding and approval from the Department of Finance.
"We've been waiting a long time on that now. That agreement had been reached in June and we're still waiting for that.
"It's adding up because the longer it goes, the bigger it gets. This deal is back pay to 2017 as well, so obviously every month you go on, the bigger that deal becomes.
"We'd have assumed that they've been budgeting for that and that money's ring-fenced."
Mr McCamphill said he didn't believe that teachers would be prepared to wait until the end of the school year next June before a decision is made on whether to go on strike.
"I'd say it would probably be a lot sooner. Our union, like the other unions, will have union conferences before Easter and I would expect members would be demanding answers to what's happening," he said.
A Department of Finance spokesperson said it "is aware of the frustration of teachers in Northern Ireland".
"This reflects successive years of budgetary pressures and pay restraint," the spokesman said.
"The 2019-20 budgetary position is hugely challenging. This is a significant amount of money which we simply do not have. We are operating in an environment with many public services facing considerable financial pressures.
"There is no doubt that departments face difficult decisions, with departments having to prioritise the funding of pay awards against the other pressures facing public services.
"The Department of Finance will continue to work closely with the Department of Education on the important issue of teachers' pay, where affordability within the budget will always be a key consideration."
A spokesperson for the Department of Education added: "Management and trade union sides of the Teachers' Negotiating Committee reached an agreement, in principle, which has the potential to resolve the long-running industrial dispute on teachers' pay and workload.
"The agreement is subject to appropriate approvals from individual teachers' unions, the Department of Education, the Department of Finance and the securing of necessary funding."