Durham Teaching Assistants Announce Work to Rule as Council Responds to Latest Strikes

Durham Teaching Assistants Announce Work to Rule as Council Responds to Latest Strikes
Durham’s TAs have announced a work to rule

Durham’s teaching assistants were on strike again this week. Walkouts on Wednesday and Thursday saw 23 schools closed completely while around 90 had to shut down some classes. Around 100 picket lines were seen across County Durham, the largest number since the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5.

And now the unions involved in the dispute, Unison and the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers), have announced that their members will embark on a work to rule, working only contracted hours and doing no overtime.

Unison has stated that over 1,000 teaching assistants were on strike this week. Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, said, “Durham Council can no longer have any doubts about how seriously teaching assistants are taking this dispute.”

“Council plans to slash the salaries of already low-paid staff are heartless and appalling.”

“Surely now councillors will see sense and get round the negotiating table with a proper offer.”

“Teaching assistants hate the idea of inconveniencing parents, but this is now the only way for school support workers to win the pay they deserve.”

Teaching assistant Lisa Turnbull said the TAs were well-supported by parents and the wider public. Ms Turnbull commented,

“People realise it is not OK to expect people to deal with thousands of pounds of pay cuts.”

“The support from parents has been great. We don’t want to do this; no one wants to go on strike, but we have no choice.”

TAs also gathered in Durham City, to hand out leaflets and explain to people why they were on strike.

The dispute was triggered by Durham County Council’s decision to fire its TAs and reemploy them on new contracts. The new contracts would only pay the TAs for the hours they work in term time and not for school holidays. The TAs say this could lead to them losing 23% of their pay packets, or around £5,000 per year.

Durham County Council, however, seems defiant in the face of the TA’s industrial action. Councillor Jane Brown, cabinet member for corporate services, said, “We are really, really disappointed. This is obviously going to have an impact on our schools, but also we’re even more disappointed that having been in further discussions with Unison only last week, they’re going ahead with industrial action.”

Durham County Council claims the contract changes are necessary to avoid costly equal pay claims from employees who are already paid only for the hours they work. Ms Brown added, “We have no choice but to follow all but one other council in the region and address the multi-million pound equal pay risk that their current contracts create.”

“It is not fair on our other staff that teaching assistants are paid for hours and weeks that they do not work and the legal advice is clear – to do nothing is not on option.”

The council estimates the contract changes could save County Durham’s schools £3 million per year.

But Emma Parker, the ATL’s district secretary in Durham, said,

“There shouldn’t be a race to the bottom with schools salaries.”

“TAs play a vital role in schools, working one-to-one with children and supporting teachers.”

“Durham Council needs to get around the table and negotiate a fair deal.”

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