School strikes loom after summer as another union ballots on industrial action

The prospect of more strikes looms larger over Northern Ireland’s schools after another teaching union announced it is to ballot members on industrial action.

By Niall Deeney
Monday, 27th June 2022, 5:14 pm
A generic photo of a child writing in a school book.
A generic photo of a child writing in a school book.

The largest teaching union in Northern Ireland, the NASUWT, has already voted in favour of industrial action following an earlier ballot and taken part in action short of a strike.

In April, the NASUWT ballot returned 98% in favour of industrial action short of a strike with 81% in favour of full strike action. Last month, the union announced the action short of strike but has now ruled out an escalation to a strike.

Another union, INTO, could soon join them after it was announced on Monday that it will be balloting members.

A spokesperson for INTO, a union which has members on both sides of the Irish border, said its Northern Ireland committee had “unanimously decided, in response to the continued lack of progress in achieving a decent and fair pay uplift for teachers and in the face of the worsening cost of living crisis, that they had no option but to seek a mandate for industrial action from the membership.”

The union’s northern secretary, Gerry Murphy, said: ““It has become increasingly obvious to INTO members that talking to the employers and Department

of Education (DE) is not working when it comes to resolving the current pay dispute. INTO must listen to our members who are rightly demanding we take industrial action to force the employers and DE [Department of Education] to get into serious negotiations with INTO and the rest of the NITC [Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council] on the issue of pay. It is perfectly understandable that members are increasingly frustrated and angry with what they see as complete inaction by the DE and the employers, they are fed up to the teeth with being taken for granted and having their good-will exploited. Therefore, they will have the opportunity, early in the new term, to target their frustration and anger by participating in a ballot for industrial action. INTO’s Northern Office will shortly be in contact with every member to make them aware of the next steps.”

INTO Northern Committee Chairperson, Marie O’Shea, said strikes are firmly on the table.

“We will be balloting early in September seeking support to commence a campaign of industrial action up to and including strike action, if necessary.”

Schools were also rocked in April by an industrial dispute involving a range of public sector workers that has yet to be resolved.

Members of the trade union Unite employed directly by the Education Authority — a group of workers that includes bus drivers and other non-teaching roles — went on strike on several dates in both April and May.

The strike brought severe disruption to special schools in particular, and forced the closure of classrooms in several schools.

The industrial dispute also involved Unite members employed by local councils and other public sector bodies.

Strike action was suspended last month to allow talks to take place, but the dispute has yet to be formally ended and could be reignited.