By Jordan Moore
Non-teaching staff across Northern Ireland took to the picket lines today to take part in a 48 hour strike over pay and conditions.
The latest round of action, organised by the trade union Unite, is over a pay and grading review.
The union says that the business case for the pay and grading review was first submitted by the Education Authority to the Department of Education on 6th February, with revised versions being sent in on 28th March, 15th June and 18th September.
Despite this, Unite says no request for additional funding has been made by the Department for Education to the Department for Finance for the cost of the review.
UTV spoke to workers on the picket line today who were clearly frustrated and angry.
Matthew Kirkpatrick, a classroom assistant at Glenveagh special school in south Belfast said rising costs were becoming a serious issue.
"The cost of living is through the roof," he said.
"Personally my rent has gone up 10% this year, everywhere you go prices are just through the roof and we seem to have been left behind."
Disruption from the strikes was widespread as classroom assistants, catering staff and school bus drivers all stopped as part of the industrial action.
Single mother Jamie-Lee Beggs supports the strikes, but that didn't stop her from getting caught up in the disruption.
"I don't drive and I am a single mum so, I don't want my daughter to miss school, because she loves school so I ended up paying £30 to get her there and then get me back to where I live," she said.
However, workers defended their strike action and the troubles it has caused on the basis that without changes to pay structure there might be no schools at all, as they struggle to retain staff.
Victoria Brown, a classroom assistant, says: "You go to another place and the job is not going to be as challenging or as hard and they get more money, so it is a double edged sword.
"They need to start thinking, you are not going to have people to educate your children in a few years if they don't get the money that they deserve for doing the job."
Unite Regional Spokesperson Kieran Ellison said the Department of Education was blocking the implementation of a new pay and grading review.
"We reached a position of consensus with the Education authority in December 22 and in February 23 a business case was submitted to the Department of Education and from there the department and primarily the permanent secretary have engaged in prevarication elongation," he said.
In a statement the Department of Education said: "The Department is continuing to engage with the Education Authority on the content of the Pay & Grading business case to ensure the proposals are fully justified and affordable.
"The proposal put forward by the EA and Trade Unions would have an initial annual implementation cost for the EA of £39m, with the subsequent recurring annual cost rising to £71m after three years.
"This would be in addition to any national NJC pay rise each year.
"However, there is currently no budget available to implement this without significant further funding being made available."
There is set to be even larger industrial action tomorrow as non-teaching staff from Unison GMB and Nipsa join the picket lines alongside Unite, in what could be the single largest strike of its kind in Northern Ireland's history.
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