Northern Ireland teaching unions announce escalation of strike action in pay dispute

Teaching unions in Northern Ireland have announced their members will hold strike action on five days in a long-running dispute over pay. The Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council (NITC), comprising the five recognised trade unions, said members would strike for 12 hours from midnight on November 29. In an escalation of their action, the NITC said teachers would also strike for four full days next spring on dates to be agreed.

Teachers, along with other public sector workers in Northern Ireland, have been involved in industrial action in recent months amid ongoing disputes about wages and conditions. Members of the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU), the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and National Education Union (NEU) went on strike in February. They were joined in further industrial action in April by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which went on strike for the first time in its history in relation to pay, leading to the closure of most schools in Northern Ireland. Pressure on public finances in Northern Ireland has meant it has not been possible to offer a pay award to public sector workers this year. Jacquie White from the Ulster Teacher’s Union (UTU) and chairwoman of NITC, said: “Teachers and school leaders have been on action short of strike for more than a year, and there is no sign that the Department of Education or the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) are in any rush to settle this dispute. “It is high time they realised that our members are serious about seeking an urgent resolution to this untenable situation, and for that reason we are announcing five days of strike action. “No teacher wants to take this action; however, we now feel that management side has left us with no other option.” Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT said the pay gap between teachers in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK had reached “epic proportions”. He added: “Teachers simply cannot continue as if everything is normal. “Teachers are angry and are prepared to step up strike action in order to achieve a level of pay which allows them to provide for their families. “Urgent action is now needed to address our concerns. “The secretary of state needs to come out of hiding and ensure that the education system in Northern Ireland is properly funded.” Mark McTaggart from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said teachers needed a salary which truly reflects their value to society. He said: “The continued failure by those who hold the purse strings to provide this has the potential to have a devastating effect on the life chances of the children and young people in their care.” Graham Gault from NAHT said teachers in Northern Ireland had waited three years for a pay rise. He said: “In this time, as colleagues in every other jurisdiction on these islands have seen successive increases in remuneration, the teaching profession in Northern Ireland has been left very far behind. “The status quo is intolerable and simply will not be accepted. Today’s announcement must be a turning point.” Pauline Buchanan from the NEU added: “Teachers carry out vital work for the children of today, the workforce of tomorrow and shape education for generations to come and deserve at the very least, a decent pay rise – now.”

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