Education workers strike: ‘Everything is going up – except our pay’
The action over pay and grading comes after Unite members, including bus drivers, classroom assistants, cooks and clerical staff, started a 48-hour walkout on Wednesday.
Yesterday, Unison and GMB union members were on strike for a day, and members of Nipsa (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance) took part in a two-hour strike after the start of their shifts.
Nula McCarthy, a classroom assistant of 19 years, was on the picket line yesterday.
“This is running on from last year, we were also out on strike with no resolution, so we're back out again,” she said.
“Due to pay and grading, the pay is going nowhere, the workload is getting heavier and the pay is staying the same.
“There's a cost-of-living crisis, mortgages going up, a lot of things going up – except the wages.”
Ms McCarthy said she was forced to take on an additional role in her school as well as a weekend job to make ends meet.
“I work as a classroom assistant, but also had to take on an extra role as a bus escort to make the wages go up, we weren't getting paid enough,” she said.
“I also had to take on a part-time job at the weekend to again make the wages go up.
“I purchased a house about two years ago, and living on my own, I'm paying all the bills, I'm paying the rates, I'm paying everything, so we are struggling.”
Ms McCarthy said education workers were “working hard” for their wages.
“The staffing turnaround is getting worse because staff don't want to stay. They're not getting the pay that they deserve for the work that they're doing,” she said.
She added: “Nobody wants to be here. We want to be in the classrooms.
“I mean, we're coming up to Christmas. We would normally be getting ready for Christmas shows, a lot of festivities.
“The kids don't know what's happening. 'Are we in school? We're not in school?' So we understand the families are frustrated, nobody wants to be here.”
Kieran Ellison, regional officer of Unite, said their members were on strike “because of the failure of the Department of Education”.
“Our members are currently on low pay, it is absolutely affecting the retention issues, which has a knock-on effect for the children, particularly children from an SEN (special educational needs) background who have a revolving door of classroom assistants who it's hard to bond with when they continually change,” he said.
Mr Ellison said the pay and grading review “needs to be implemented”.
“Unite and other trade unions in the Education Authority spent a lot of hard time bargaining this agreement, and really, the Department of Education needs to find the money and implement this to change the retention problem,” he said.
Last week, Department of Education Permanent Secretary Mark Browne described the strike action as “disappointing”, saying a pay award, which covers non-teaching staff, was agreed on November 1 for 2023-24.
He said it has been provided to the Education Authority to allow the award to be implemented as soon as possible.