Teaching assistants’ pay should be set the same way as teachers, says UNISON

The pay of teaching assistants should be agreed nationally like that of teachers, then local councils would not be able to undermine their earnings and working conditions, says UNISON today (Wednesday).

Unlike teachers, many teaching assistants now get paid only during term time. Government spending cuts have forced cash-strapped local authorities to move them to these term-time only contracts, leaving teaching assistants with huge wage cuts, says UNISON.

Now teaching assistants in Derby and Durham face a similar fate unless they can force their respective councils to recognise the vital contribution they make in the classroom – and not downgrade their pay.

Later today, teaching assistants employed by Derby City Council take their long-running dispute to Westminster, on the day they also take strike action.

Staff will lobby MPs to support their case against the Labour-led council, which this June put 4,000 staff on term-time only contracts. The move means some teaching assistants stand to lose as much as £6,000 a year, says UNISON.

Teaching assistants are angry that the council, which first announced the controversial plan last September, has imposed the contract that affects employees at 70 schools across the city.

Following pressure from UNISON, the council made an initial offer last month, but this was rejected by staff in a ballot. Then last week Derby City came back with revised proposals that included a one-off compensation payment of £2,000. This was again rejected as it applied only to 250 teaching assistants across the city who work with children with special educational needs.

In Durham, county councillors are meeting today (Wednesday) to vote on new proposals that would see teaching assistants move to new term-time contracts. Teaching assistants across the county will be balloted by UNISON on the offer from today.

Around 1,700 people across the county could be affected by a move to term-time contracts and the majority of those facing a pay cut are women. They stand to lose as much as 23%; up to £5,000 each year slashed from their wages.

UNISON believes term-time contracts for half the school workforce are divisive, bad for morale and unfair, and that support staff should be treated like teachers, whose pay is negotiated at a national level.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “School support staff are among the UK’s lowest paid workers, yet they are paying the price of continued government spending cuts.

“The squeeze on finances from Westminster means that councils are operating within a financial straitjacket, but penalising some of the lowest paid workers in society is quite simply the wrong decision.

“The impact on family budgets will be huge and could mean people end up in debt and relying on benefits. Teachers couldn’t teach without teaching assistants, and parents – who know only too well the value of the work they do – will be horrified at the way they are being treated. These employees deserve much better.

“When Theresa May became Prime Minister, she said her government would be driven by the interests of ordinary working class families. If that’s true, she should start by calling time on spending cuts and start funding our public services properly. Then councils wouldn’t have to hammer low-paid school staff.”

Derby teaching assistants will stage a rally in Parliament Square, Westminster, today and Dave will address them at 1pm.

Notes to editors:

·    The Derby City council term-time only contract took effect from 1 June, affecting about 4,000 staff. Level 2 teaching assistants were previously paid £21,000 per year, but under the new contract get just £15,000­ – a cut of nearly 30. Today’s lobby will involve the three Derby MPs Amanda Solloway, Margaret Beckett and Pauline Latham, and a further 29 MPs who have Derby teaching assistants in their constituencies.

·    Durham County Council voted in May to dismiss teaching assistants and re-employ them on new term-time contracts, and this process will begin next month (October). This will amount to a wage cut of almost 23% and losses of up to £5,000 annually. A compensation package amounting to one year’s lost earnings has been rejected by staff and the council will decide today whether to increase compensation to two years’ loss.

·    UNISON wants a standard 37-hour week for school staff, payable all year round, and the reinstatement of a special classroom allowance of £1,200 that was scrapped in June.
Media contacts:
Alan Weaver T:  0207 121 5555 M: 07939 143310 E: a.weaver@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk