Special needs assistants threaten industrial action over job security

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IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said there was no practical reason why the schools cannot get the figures in April or May, so that they can plan for the new school year and, where necessary, organise redeployment of SNAs in a dignified, effective and timely way.

Thousands of special needs assistants (SNAs) will ballot for industrial action immediately at the start the new school year because of the Government’s failure, for the fourth year running, to announce SNA allocations before the end of the 2017 summer term.

The SNA allocations establish the number of SNAs that are allocated to individual schools each school year. The delay in their publication means SNAs don’t know if they have a job to return to next September, but are unable to apply for redeployment in the event that they don’t.

IMPACT, which represents almost 8,000 SNAs, says the failure to publish the allocations puts the education department in breach of agreements on job security and redeployment. The union says it has been forced into an industrial action ballot by the education department’s contempt for SNAs and the children they serve.

Speaking at the ICTU Biennial Delegate Conference in Belfast this afternoon, IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said there was no practical reason why the schools cannot get the figures in April or May, so that they can plan for the new school year and, where necessary, organise redeployment of SNAs in a dignified, effective and timely way.

“The education department’s disgraceful and habitual failure to do this simple thing, which means so much uncertainty for our children and their schools, also means that SNAs don’t know if they have a job to return to next September. If it happened one time, it would be unacceptable. But it happens every year – and that shows contempt for SNAs, and for the children, parents and schools they serve.”

Mr Callinan said IMPACT had contacted the Department of Education on the matter scores of times. The union also raised the issue with Minister of Education Richard Bruton at the union’s education conference in April, and wrote to him again last month.

“We are making daily contact with the department in an effort to get the allocations issued, and we have repeatedly warned them that their failure to do so is raising the industrial relations temperature. But they aren’t listening, and so we are now going to ballot for industrial action to ensure that SNAs achieve the same job security as the national teachers they work beside in the classroom,” he said.

The Government announced an extra 975 SNAs for the next school year this afternoon, and it was reported that Cabinet agreed that the process on the provision of special needs assistants would not be decided so late in the school year.

IMPACT communications officer Niall Shanahan said this commitment was insufficient to prevent a ballot for industrial action from going ahead. “The allocation delay is unacceptable. It’s already caused significant difficulty for our members. Soothing words from the Taoiseach or commitments by the Government simply won’t be enough. Our response follows successive years of avoidable delay to publish the allocations in a timely manner,” he said.

The union says the department is in breach of agreed redeployment procedures, under which a ‘supplementary assignment panel’ is in place for SNAs who lose their post because the child they serve moves on. This year, posts have been advertised on the panel, but with closing dates that precede the publication of the 2017-2018 allocations.

This puts SNAs in an impossible position, because they don’t know if they need to apply for redeployment, but will lose the opportunity if they don’t do so. As a result, an SNA could lose their position at the end of the 2017 school year, but be unable to apply for an alternative post next September. The union says this undermines the effective application of the panel system.