A mass rally of teaching assistants took place last night at the Durham Miners’ Hall in Flass Street. At the rally, hundreds of TAs heard calls from their leaders to reject Durham County Council’s latest offer to end a long-running dispute over new contracts. The rally was organised by the County Durham Teaching Assistants’ Activists’ Committee (CDTAA), a grassroots association set up by the TAs.
The dispute centres on a plan by the council to sack all the county’s 2,700 teaching assistants then reemploy them on new contracts. The new contracts would only pay them for the hours they work during term time and not for holiday periods. The TAs claim this would lead to them losing 23% of their salaries whereas the council argue they would only lose 10%. Last week the council made a ‘final offer’ to the TAs, proposing to delay the introduction of the changes by two years. But the tone of last night’s meeting indicated this offer is likely to be rejected. Such a rejection would probably result in industrial action.
A spokesperson for the CDTAA said that informal polls suggest “an overwhelming majority of teaching assistants do not accept the offer and, if the results of the official ballot concur, then a further ballot for industrial action will take place.”
Lisa Turnbull, who has been a TA for twenty-six years, said, “These cuts will devastate families. People are worrying about losing their homes. I do not know whether I will be able to send my daughter to university or keep paying my mortgage. The worry and stress this has caused teaching assistants has been absolutely horrible. That’s why events like this are so well-attended – people need to feel there is someone with them.”
Earlier this summer, the TAs received a boost when the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined union leaders in backing their cause at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Some TAs have displayed posters of the recently deceased Durham Miners’ Association general secretary Dave Hopper at their rallies.
The council state that the new contracts are necessary to avoid pay claims from other school staff who are already hourly paid. The council also point out that the contracts will lead to savings of three million pounds in the budgets of local schools.