Durham County Council respond to teaching assistants' strike action

Durham county council has responded to Unison's announcement that teaching assistants will stage a two day strike over a long running dispute over changes to their contracts.

Campaigners say plans to move teaching assistants to term-time pay could see school support staff lose up to 23% of their wages. Strike action will take place on 8 and 9 November.

Durham County Council say that the majority of staff have not voted to strike and that they have entered a year of negotiations with staff and unions.

Margaret Whellans, Durham County Council’s corporate director of children and young people’s services, said:

From the outset we have been clear that no one wants to be in this position. We face a substantial risk of equal pay claims and we have no choice other than to follow all but one other council in the North East and many nationally which already pay teaching assistants for term time only. The Council has been clear that the status quo is not an option.

We greatly value our teaching assistants and that is why we have done everything possible to minimise the impact of these changes on them. However it is only fair that staff are paid only for the hours they work. A very significant number of our teaching assistants have been paid for working 37 hours a week, whole time, when they actually worked 32.5 hours a week and term time only.

We have undertaken more than a year of negotiations with staff and unions, doubled the compensation offered to cover two years, offered to delay implementation of the changes, and worked with the unions and to resolve this. We have also been recruiting on the new terms since June 1 and no recruitment problems have been experienced resulting in all vacant posts being filled.

Our final offer – which was developed with mediation service ACAS - was accepted by two unions and a number of other staff, while Unison members voted to reject it. We have respected the outcome of those ballots, and offered compensation accordingly.

Around 40% of our teaching assistant workforce, from Unison and the ATL, have voted in favour of strike action, but it is important to note that the majority of staff have not voted to strike.

The Council is always willing to talk with unions and staff as it has throughout this process, however the two year compensation offer agreed through ACAS is the Council’s final offer.

The education and wellbeing of our children and young people are our primary concern and we will continue to work closely with headteachers and school governors to help them mitigate the impact of this strike on pupils.”

– Margaret Whellans, Durham County Council’s corporate director of children and young people’s service