Schools across Northern Ireland closed on Wednesday morning as teachers took part in a 12-hour strike in an ongoing dispute over pay.
Some lecturers at further education colleges who are members of the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers) teaching union also took part in strike action.
It is the third time teachers have been on strike this year, and school support workers and lecturers in further and higher education have also taken industrial action.
Teachers in Northern Ireland have not had a pay rise in nearly three years - even though salaries in England, Scotland and Wales have increased – because there is no money in the Stormont budget to pay for it.
In a statement on Wednesday the Department of Education said it “fully understands the frustration of teachers and school leaders over the ongoing absence of a pay offer.
“It is regrettable that the Department has been unable to offer teachers a pay award for the past three years similar to other jurisdictions, but it is simply unaffordable within an inadequate education budget.”
It said negotiations had been taking place for on a teachers’ pay settlement for the last three years, and “discussions will continue as soon as finance becomes available”.
Teaching unions said the failure to increase teachers’ pay has meant a pay cut in real terms, which has widened the disparity between salaries in Northern Ireland and those elsewhere in the UK and Ireland.
The general secretary of the NASUWT, Dr Patrick Roach, said the gap between teacher and lecturer pay across the UK “has widened into what can only be described as a chasm” and teachers and lecturers had been left with “no choice but to take further industrial action”.
The union’s Northern Ireland official, Justin McCamphill, said a “substantially improved” pay offer must be brought forward if the strikes were to end, and called on the UK government to step in and take action in the continued absence of an Executive at Stormont.
“The UK Government must ensure that teachers and lecturers in Northern Ireland are paid the same as their counterparts elsewhere in the UK,” he said.
At a picket line outside Lisneal College in Derry on Wednesday morning, principal Michael Allen said it was “becoming more and more difficult to recruit specialist teachers at post-primary” and fewer graduates wanted to teach in Northern Ireland.
“Quite a lot of the graduates now either move to England, stay in England and don’t want to return, and a significant proportion now are moving to the Middle East, China, places like that, in a young person’s view perhaps a better standard of living, better pay, they get to see the world, and they’re not coming back.
“If I’m a graduate or a young teacher, I can earn maybe £5,000 or £7,000 more in the Republic of Ireland, or Scotland … people are going to where the better pay is, and in terms of a new teacher in Northern Ireland, graduates can find work with less stress and less hours for more money.
“Beginning teachers, the wages are around about the same as people would expect in some of the call centres, and as they develop and they grow older, pay increases then it starts to fall off even more significantly with the rest of the UK and Ireland, so it is no longer an attractive vocation or occupation because it simply doesn’t pay the bills for a lot of young people.”
He said his teachers “are definitely having to cut out more of the enjoyable side of life, bills are now dominating households … the bills now essentially absorb a teacher’s pay, so when you consider the amount of extra hours done at home and in school as part of the life of a school, there just simply is no longer a balance, it’s pay the bills and work.
“By our nature, teachers are quite compliant people, we like to play by the rules, so the fact that so many people are deciding to go out on strike action just suggests that we have absolutely had enough. We can see the profession dying before our eyes.”
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