Teachers' pay demands branded 'fantasy figures' by Stormont minister
Stormont's education minister has urged teachers' unions to live in the "real world" as he described some of their pay demands as "fantasy figures".
Peter Weir was answering an urgent oral question tabled in the Assembly on next week's proposed strike action by members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT).
Other unions are taking action industrial action stopping short of a walk out.
They have rejected an offer of a 1% pay rise this year.
Mr Weir told MLAs a bigger increase in 2016/17 could only be afforded by making redundancies.
He said he was prepared to discuss "realistic" pay proposals for 2017/18 onward but claimed many of the figures suggested by the unions failed to acknowledge the pressure on expenditure across the public sector in Northern Ireland.
"There is no doubt that all of us I think would like to see a greater degree of public sector pay for a range of workers, but we are in tight financial circumstances," he said.
The DUP minister said one union had called for a 13% pay increase.
"Those are just not realistic figures on that basis, and all of us have got to quite frankly live in the real world," he added.
"Now I think there's got to be discussions on how we can best move forward but if there are fantasy figures getting produced in terms of what should happen in terms of pay there's got to be a realisation this can only be paid for out of the budget that is there for schools, which itself can only be paid for out of the budget for education and out of the block grant and those levels of increases in terms of pay are not realistic."
NASUWT members in more than 100 schools in Belfast and Newtownabbey are expected to stage a one-day strike next Wednesday over pay, workload and job insecurity.
The stoppage could cause severe disruption and force the closure of some schools.
Teachers in other areas of Northern Ireland are set to take similar action early next year.
The urgent Assembly question was tabled by Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, responded to Mr Weir's comments.
"The fact that the minister is now issuing statements on an almost daily basis demonstrates he is clearly rattled by the action being taken by teachers," she said.
Ms Keates added: "The minister would be better spending his time trying to resolve the trade dispute and avoiding the strike action by giving teachers the money that he was allocated for their pay award."
Ms Keates said her union had not put a specific percentage on its call for a pay rise for teachers.
"The NASUWT has never asked for 13%, in fact the union has never put a percentage on the pay claim we are seeking," she added.