Durham County Council is to offer its teaching assistants a ‘final deal’ in a bid to end a long-running dispute over new contracts. The teaching assistants and their supporters have engaged in a summer of protests against the council’s plans to sack and then rehire its TAs on new contracts that would see them only paid during term times. The TAs argue that this would lead to them losing 23% of their salaries.
The council met today to vote on the new offer. Originally, the plan was to compensate the TAs for their lost earnings for one year after the new contracts are brought in. Now it is proposed that this should be extended to two years. But the TAs maintain that this new deal will do little to improve their situation.
One TA commented, “We will still lose the same amount of pay; it is just delayed. And the so-called compensation is just the council letting us keep our own money for two years. The choice is lose your money in one year or lose it in two. That is not a choice – I will lose £225 take-home pay a month. I know I make a difference in the job I do, but I won’t be able to afford to stay.”
But Jane Brown, the council’s cabinet member for corporate services, said, “All but one council regionally and many nationally have already changed to term-time pay for teaching assistants. Our proposals are aimed at providing fairness and parity across our workforce and ensuring that teaching assistants, like other council employees, are paid only for the hours they actually work. We have been in discussions with the unions and teaching assistants for a year in an effort to find an appropriate solution.”
The next step will be for the unions to ballot their members on whether to accept the new offer. If the union members vote to reject the proposal, the council will continue with their original plan. The TAs would be served with notices of dismissal in October and their one year of compensation would begin in January 2017. There is also the possibility of the TAs taking strike action.
Durham County’s Labour-dominated council voted 59 to 13 to go ahead with the new offer, but some councillors were far from happy about this decision. Independent Peter May said, “I’m afraid I can’t support this because I think we as councillors are being blackmailed, saying you better vote for this because if you don’t, the teaching assistants are going to get nothing.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Owen Temple also called the deal “blackmail”, describing it as a “stick not an olive branch.”
But Jane Brown rejected claims of blackmail, stating the deal was a “negotiated settlement”. She added, “We take exception to the comments that we don’t care about our teaching assistants or value the work they do.”