Labour council accused of intimidating UNISON teaching assistants in Durham dispute

Friday 7 October 2016
For immediate release

Labour council accused of intimidating UNISON teaching assistants in Durham dispute

Teaching assistants who belong to UNISON – currently voting on possible strike action against Durham County Council’s plans to cut their pay by almost a quarter – are facing intimidation tactics from their employer, says their union leader Dave Prentis.

Almost 1,700 classroom assistants across the county are members of UNISON. They are in dispute with the council over its decision to slash their pay by as much as 23%.

Last week the teaching assistants – the majority of whom are low-paid women –overwhelmingly rejected a compensation package from the council. The union is now balloting them over possible industrial action.

Durham County Council has this week distributed letters to both school support staff and headteachers, which UNISON says seek to drive a wedge between teaching assistants who belong to UNISON and their colleagues in the two other unions, GMB and Unite.

The council intends to dismiss its entire 2,700-strong school support workforce and re-employ them on term-time contracts, not just paying them for fewer weeks of the year, but also making them work longer for less pay, says UNISON.

Now the teaching assistants in GMB and Unite are to be offered a two-year compensation deal and won’t be put on the new contracts until next April. But those in UNISON are to be “dismissed and re-engaged” with just a single year of compensation from the beginning of next year.

The union believes there’s a clear attempt by the council to imply that UNISON teaching assistants are in the minority opposing the council’s pay deal – when they make up the overwhelming majority of Durham teaching assistants.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “These are the sort of shabby tactics we’d expect from the worst private sector employers, not a Labour council. I hope all Durham teaching assistants vote to go on strike, the council rethinks its pathetic offer and stops behaving in such a distasteful manner.

“This is a clear attempt to penalise teaching assistants who are members of UNISON and frighten them sufficiently so they are intimidated into voting against taking strike action.

“Durham teaching assistants will see through this transparent plan to divide and set one group of colleagues against another. Their spirit won’t be broken. They will stand together and win together against a Labour council that should know better.”

UNISON northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “This is a blatant attempt by Durham council to scare and intimidate low-paid workers, who were already struggling to get by before the council decided to slash their pay.

“These women have fought an incredibly powerful campaign against their employer. It’s not a challenge they have sought but it was one they have risen to. They won’t back down over these bully-boy tactics and neither will UNISON.”

Notes to editors:
– Last week UNISON announced the result of a consultation exercise involving 1,686 teaching assistants. The council’s proposals were rejected by 78%, while 22% voted to accept. Members of the GMB and Unite voted to accept the offer.
– UNISON’s strike ballot opened on Monday and closes on 19 October. Dave Prentis is due to speak at a rally of teaching assistants next Thursday (13 October) at 6pm in the Miners’ Hall, Redhills.

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