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We've no choice, say teachers as NI schools close

2023-06-01 16:25:19 source:CBS News author:Press center8 click:944order

Teachers taking part in a strike that has closed most schools in Northern Ireland say they had no choice but industrial action.

Members of all five Northern Ireland teaching unions are on strike, mostly over a long-running pay dispute.

"Why is my labour worth so much less than it is in the rest of the UK when we have a world class education system?" teacher Melanie Doherty asked.

She said teachers will leave Northern Ireland if they did not act.

Public service workers are also on strike with ports, MOT centres and courts affected.

Speaking before she joined the picket line with her colleagues at Foyle College in Londonderry, Ms Doherty told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster that she was "downhearted" but that teachers felt there was "no other way" to put their point across.

"We have a world class education system, but if we continue with the cuts and devaluing teachers we're not going to have that in Northern Ireland for much longer," she said.

For the first time, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is taking part in the full day's strike, joining four teaching unions who staged a previous walkout on 21 February.

The unions involved include the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa) the civil servants union, along with members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (GMB), Unite and all the teachers' unions.

The action by the unions representing teachers is mainly due to a pay dispute, with a stalemate over a deal running for more than a year.

In February 2022, unions rejected a pay offer from employers for the years 2021-2023 as "inadequate".

Since then the cost of living has spiralled with inflation at more than 10%.

But with Stormont's education budget under severe pressure it is not clear how much money is available to make teachers a pay offer the unions would accept.

Members of the NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers) who work in further education (FE) colleges in Northern Ireland will, for the first time in the current dispute, join their colleagues on strike.

It is the first time in its 125-year history that members of the NAHT have taken strike action over pay.

Mark McTaggart, northern secretary for INTO (Irish National Teachers' Organisation), warned there would be a crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers in Northern Ireland.

"Teachers are significantly underpaid compared to every other teacher in these islands and schools across the north have no budgets in real terms," he told Good Morning Ulster.

"We are already talking about an education system which is half a billion pounds in debt - if there a 10% cut we are talking about £0.75bn debt.

"All that is going to lead to a reduction in the number of teachers in schools, which is going to have a devastating effect on the life chances of our young people across the north."

The president of the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU), Lynelle Fenton, said: "I really don't think parents realise the cuts that are coming and the profound, potentially irreparable damage they will do to our education system, a system which until now has often been the envy of other parts of the UK."

​In a statement, a spokesperson for the five unions said their members had "waited far too long for a satisfactory offer from the employers".

"Teachers' pay, in real terms, has dropped by nearly a quarter in the 'lost decade' since the pay freeze of 2010-11," it added.

A large number of teachers in England are also due to strike on Thursday 27 April and Tuesday 2 May.

Elsewhere, the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland has said its public services could be affected by industrial action by civil servants.

Strike action began with a walk-out at midnight from Larne and Belfast ports and government departments have all been affected.

Nipsa general secretary Carmel Gates said: "Our members have had the worst pay offer of any group of workers on these islands.

"In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis the pay offer to civil servants was £552 for the year and that's before tax.

"This increase wouldn't even pay for their milk for the week."

Ms Gates said workers were being forced on to the bread line.

"Workers here have faced the worst pay award of any group on these island so it is essential that the secretary of state sets a budget that allows workers to get the pay rise they deserve," she said.

In a statement, the Department of Infrastructure said that as "far as possible, contingency arrangements have been developed but the public are advised to expect disruption to many services as well as prioritisation of assistance to those incidents with most impact to life and property".

The department said the Strangford ferry would not operate due to an ongoing strike and that there would be a significant reduction in its capacity to respond to flood emergencies should they occur.It said Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) test centres are expected to open but services may be affected.

Customers with booked appointments should attend as scheduled unless directly notified by the DVA not to attend.

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