Northern Ireland

Education Authority staff begin first of seven days of strike action over pay

Classroom assistants on strike at St Joseph’s Primary School in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Classroom assistants on strike at St Joseph’s Primary School in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann Classroom assistants on strike at St Joseph’s Primary School in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

STRIKE action has got underway at schools across the north on Thursday as union members employed by the Education Authority took to picket lines for the first of seven days of industrial action.

Members of the Unite Union backed action in a recent ballot that saw 94 percent support a strike over pay.

The ballot followed a failure by the Department of Education to implement a pay and grading review in the wake of the recent budget by Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, described by the union as "brutal".

Classroom assistants, bus drivers and administrative staff are among the Education Authority staff taking part in the strikes, which Unite said would cause "significant disruption" at schools.

Five special schools in the north are set to close from today amid the industrial action with pupils unable to attend until next week.

Children attending Glenveagh School in Belfast and Rossmar School in Limavady are among those affected as well as Park, Mitchell House and Oakwood schools in Belfast.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “It is totally unacceptable education workers in Northern Ireland have been denied this improvement as a result of this punishing budget set by the secretary of state.

"This budget is not enough to maintain education services – let alone offer any protection to education workers in the worst cost of living crisis in a generation."

"Unite’s members working in education can be guaranteed the full support of this union in their fight for decent wages and to safeguard education services in Northern Ireland.”

Unite regional officer Kieran Ellison added: "If we do not see any movement to improve the budget or deliver the pay and grading review, this strike is likely to escalate further in the new academic year.

“Responsibility for the impact that this strike will have resides squarely at the feet of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He has set a brutal budget that fails our children, fails our schools and fails the workers who deliver the service.”

The Northern Ireland Office has said an Executive should be formed at Stormont for Northern Ireland "to address the challenges its public services face".

A spokesperson for the Education Authority said: "We are continuing to implement a range of contingency measures ahead of the further strike action and are working very closely with all schools to minimise disruption for children and young people, particularly those children with special educational needs, as we very much recognise the impact this will have on pupils, schools and families."