As UNISON prepares to celebrate the incredible Stars in Our Schools this Friday, more than 6,000 UNISON schools support staff members in Northern Ireland took to picket lines for a day’s strike action for fair pay.
From Belfast to Omagh, Downpatrick to Ballycastle, members demanded long overdue reform to the education authority’s pay and grading structure.
UNISON believes this must be changed to recognise and properly value our members’ huge contribution to the education of children and young people.
The action comes as education services in Northern Ireland experience significant cuts as a result of budgets set by the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, in the ongoing absence of an executive at Stormont.
UNISON delivered a strong message against the cuts and demanding fair pay at a demonstration outside the education authority’s headquarters in Belfast last week.
UNISON Northern Ireland regional secretary Patricia McKeown told members at the demonstration: ‘‘You’re the people that look after our future generations. And our future generations need the best. You’re the best. That needs to be recognised in your pay, in your grading, and in the money that you’re owed.’’
UNISON reps and members at picket lines across Northern Ireland shared with local media how important fair pay is for them and their colleagues.
Anne Taggart, a cook at a primary school, highlighted how the cost of living crisis was impacting her ‘‘ten-fold” and it has got to the situation of ‘‘eat or heat”. Anne added that cooks and catering assistants are leaving in their droves as they ‘‘cannot afford to exist’’.
Samantha Bronze, a special needs classroom assistant, said: ‘‘Pay is nowhere near enough. The job description is busting at the seams and our goodwill is coming to an end. We’re not being paid fairly for the hours that we do and the work that we do and it needs to be recognised.’’
Classroom assistant Maura Scampton said it was ‘‘very difficult’’ to go out on strike, but that ‘‘it’s impossible to live the way things are at the minute’’. Fellow classroom assistant Sinead Thompson said she was struggling to pay bills ‘‘every single month.’’
School principals in Northern Ireland also spoke in support of the action by UNISON members. Chris Donnelly, principal of a primary school in Belfast, said: ‘‘We cannot deliver on our mission of educating all children, in developing them academically, socially, emotionally and physically without classroom assistants and without our non-teaching staff.’’
UNISON Northern Ireland head of bargaining and representation Anne Speed added that the action was a message to the secretary of state that ‘‘punitive budgets are not good enough. Education workers in Northern Ireland are not prepared to sit and wait while you sort out all the political problems. Working people need pay justice now.’’