Belfast Telegraph

UTU ballots teachers over strike in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

A Northern Ireland teaching union is to ballot its members today on strike action.

The vote by those in the Ulster Teachers' Union comes just days after the largest local teaching union staged a one-day walkout.

The NASUWT called its members in the Belfast and Newtownabbey areas out on strike last Wednesday.

The disruption caused several schools to close.

The Education Authority said the action affected 77 schools.

The NASUWT threatened more strikes across other areas unless employers offered teachers more money.

In October all five main teaching unions here rejected an offer that saw their pay frozen in 2015/16 and a rise of 1% in 2016/17.

A third union, INTO, has indicated it will be voting over potential strike action.

Today UTU will ballot its 6,500-plus members in Northern Ireland.

The move follows its school gate pickets last month to highlight the "crisis situation" facing the education system.

"There exists among teachers a strength of feeling about this that has been seldom seen before. I cannot stress enough the crisis situation our system faces," said Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary.

She said a clear signal needed to be sent to Education Minister Peter Weir.

"It is imperative that we get that message across, not just to the minister, but to parents and the wider community," she added.

"Unlike the employers, parents know and largely appreciate the dedication of their children's teachers, but there's a sense that 'it'll all be OK in the end'.

"But this cannot end well, and parents need to know.

"Unless something is done to address teachers' plummeting morale over pay and to address the future funding issues to allow schools to carry on providing the education our children deserve, then we must resolve this situation.

"Parents will appreciate that this ballot on strike action comes as a very last resort and it's something we as a profession are loath to do.

"However, having tried to appeal to the employers via other routes and been treated with contempt, we feel we have no other option."

Ms Hall Callaghan said teachers' patience was being stretched to breaking point.

She added: "The minister needs to take teachers seriously - they are slow to anger, but he needs to realise that it is teachers that keep education deliverable.

"If they are no longer prepared to 'go the extra mile', then the whole system will fall down around him."

Mr Weir has urged teachers not to strike.

He warned it would "cause major disruption to parents".

The DUP minister added: "It would put further pressure on other teachers and leaders that are already struggling to cope, in addition to damaging the reputation of teachers."

Belfast Telegraph


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