Durham teaching assistants back strike action, announces UNISON

Durham teaching assistants have voted overwhelmingly for strike action in the long-running dispute over cuts to their pay, their union UNISON has announced today (Wednesday).

UNISON held a ballot over Durham County Council plans to move teaching assistants to term-time pay. This could see school support staff lose up to 23% of their wages.

The vote on whether to move to industrial action was put to the largely female workforce on Thursday 6 October. The ballot closed today and 93% of UNISON members who responded voted for strike action.

The ballot was carried out against a backdrop of intimidation by the council which has threatened to sack and re-employ teaching assistants who are UNISON members on a worse deal than that given to other employees, says the union.

UNISON has notified the council of the decision to take action and will now decide with its teaching assistants the nature of the action they want to take.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This huge vote has taken place against a backdrop of bullying by councillors, head teachers and church leaders, all of whom should have known better.

“These are low-paid women workers who deserve much better from their employer – a Labour council.

“Even at this late stage there’s still time for councillors to think again and agree to reverse their decision to slash the pay of these workers by nearly a quarter.”

UNISON northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “We’re disappointed at the council’s decision to treat UNISON teaching assistant members worse than their colleagues.

“Teaching assistants are essential in the classroom and to devalue them in this way is unacceptable. Parents and teachers understand their worth, it’s a pity the council does not.

“This decision to move to industrial action hasn’t been taken lightly. But with employees facing massive pay cuts, they have been left with no other option. Durham council must do the right thing and get back around the negotiating table.”

UNISON Durham County branch secretary Neville Hancock said: “This shows the incredible strength of feeling in this long-running dispute. Every day teaching assistants go above and beyond the call of duty yet are being treated like second class citizens by their employer.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON balloted a total of 1,755 teaching assistants. For legal reasons, the union had to conduct two separate ballots – one for employees in faith schools and another for those directly employed by the council.
– Ninety-three per cent of county council employees who voted backed strike action. The figure was the same for those working in faith schools.
– Councillors voted in May to dismiss the classroom assistants and re-employ them on new term-time contracts.

Media contacts:
Allison Jackson T: 0191 245 0805 M: 07852 292864 E: a.jackson2@unison.co.uk
Sophie Goodchild T: 0207 121 5546 M: 07767 325595 E: s.goodchild@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk