Belfast Telegraph

Teachers' union NASUWT says staff took action 'with deep regret'

By Charlotte Martin

Teachers swapped the classroom for the picket line yesterday as they staged a one-day strike over pay, workloads and job security.

A total of 77 schools were affected, the Education Authority said. It branded the action "futile".

Around a third of schools in Belfast and Newtownabbey were either closed or partially closed to pupils.

It follows a decision by Education Minister Peter Weir not to increase teachers' pay.

A rally at the Europa Hotel in Belfast yesterday was attended by over 200 striking teachers from around Northern Ireland as well as leading members of the NASUWT union, which staged the strike.

The union claims years of pay restraints, combined with increased pension and National Insurance contributions, have left teachers here the worst off in the UK.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "It is with deep regret that we have been forced to move to this position, but we have been left with no choice by the blatant disregard of the Minister for Education for the pay and conditions of teachers who provide such a vital public service."

During the rally, several teachers hit out at the lack of professional recognition and an excessive workload.

"We do not need to tell you what we, as teachers, bring to the lives of the young people in our care," said Susan Parlour, head of English in St Cecilia's College in Londonderry.

"We are all dedicated, committed professionals who will always go that extra mile for our children.

"We never entered this profession to be rich, but neither did we expect our paltry Westminster-approved pay award of 1% for 2015-16 to be plundered and pillaged by our Minister for Education."

Mr Weir, who rejected the pay rise offer, has claimed a bigger increase could only be afforded by making redundancies.

Ahead of the action yesterday, he said he was prepared to discuss "realistic" pay proposals for 2017/18 onward but said there would be no more negotiations on the rejected offer.

The Education Authority said: "Teachers' pay negotiations have concluded for 2015 and 2016 and will not be re-opened. Today's strike action is futile."

In a statement, it said officials have written to the Northern Ireland Teachers' Council to put forward a proposal for "immediate and intensive negotiations to resolve issues connected with the industrial action".

Ngaire McCann, the NASUWT's national executive member for Northern Ireland, declared that "nothing is not enough" for the teachers of Northern Ireland.

She said: "Teachers in England got a 1% increase. Teachers in Scotland got 1%, and teachers in Wales got 1%.

"Are Northern Ireland teachers worth less than the teachers in England, Scotland and Wales?

"Do we not work just as hard?"

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