North’s teachers protest over ‘insulting’ 1% pay rise

Industrial action taken over lunch breaks to avoid disrupting children’s school day

Teachers in Northern Ireland have urged parents to   “ask their local MLA why Stormont does not put a value on education”.  Photograph: Pacemaker Belfast

Teachers in Northern Ireland have urged parents to “ask their local MLA why Stormont does not put a value on education”. Photograph: Pacemaker Belfast

 

Hundreds of teachers have taken part in protests at schools across Northern Ireland over an “insulting” offer of a 1 per cent pay rise.

Thirteen months of talks between teaching unions and the North’s Education Authority broke down last month after the 1 per cent rise was offered for 2016-17.

No pay rise was proposed for last year and union members at around 100 primary and primary schools opted to raise their concerns at school gates on Tuesday.

Teachers handed out leaflets to parents and members of the public urging them to “ask their local MLA why Stormont does not put a value on education”.

The industrial action was taken over lunch breaks at post-primary schools and at the end of the school day at post-primary schools so as not to disrupt the school day for children and parents.

It is supported by four teaching unions: the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) – who have described their protest as necessary to “shine light on this heightening crisis”.

The entry salary for teachers in the North is £22,243 (€25,000) plus allowances. Their progression up the salary scale to £32,509 per year is automatic and not performance related. Teaching allowances range from £1,903 to £12,272.

INTO Northern secretary Gerry Murphy told The Irish Times it was unfair that teachers in Northern Ireland were paid 16 per cent below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average for teachers.

“Teachers are feeling they are being taken for granted, that their goodwill is being exploited and that in the face of ever increasing workloads they are holding together a system which is underfunded and under-resourced. None of this is being recognised,” he said.

“The freezing of their salary in 15/16 and a 1 per cent offer for 16/17 is nothing short of an insult . . . The purpose of the action is to send a signal to the powers that be that teachers are prepared to resist this assault on the profession.”

Staged deal

UTU chairwoman Avril Hall-Callaghan said teachers deserve to be “treated fairly” and highlighted that the Scottish parliament awarded its teachers a 2.5 per cent staged pay deal last year.

“We have asked that the Minister consider a staged deal as a way forward in this dispute,” she added.

Sinn Féin, which held the education ministry in the North until it was taken over by the DUP after the Assembly election in May, said teachers make an invaluable contribution to the education system but “it’s no secret that the Executive’s budget is under increasing pressure as a result of ongoing Tory austerity cuts to the block grant”.

A spokesman said the party was disappointed that negotiations between the Education Authority and teachers’ unions broke down and urged “all parties to get back around the table in an effort to reach a resolution to the issue of teachers’ pay”.

Members of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers, the largest teaching union in Northern Ireland, has announced that its members will be involved in rolling strikes starting later this month.

In a statement, Minister for Education Peter Weir said he was “very disappointed” the unions chose to take industrial action.

He said teachers’ pay had not been cut and they had received what they were contractually entitled to in terms of progressing up the pay scale.

“In this challenging financial climate it is important to find the right balance between protecting school budgets and protecting teachers’ jobs and delivering a fair increase to teachers’ salaries, within the parameters of NI Executive pay policy.”

This article was amended on November 9th to omit a reference to the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland