Special Needs Assistants vote in favour of industrial action over loss of working hours

IMPACT says fragmentation of SNA posts reduces income and breaches Haddington Road Agreement

IMPACT staff and member activists counting the ballot this afternoon
IMPACT staff and member activists counting the ballot this afternoon

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)represented by IMPACT  have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action over the issue of the reduction of working hours and the fragmentation of SNA posts. IMPACT, which represents approximately 6,000 SNAs nationwide, said the problem of reduced hours is becoming worse each year. In some cases, individual SNAs have been reduced to as little as 10 hours of work spread over a full working week.

The ballot for industrial action was approved today (Wednesday) by a vote of 95% in favour.

IMPACT assistant general secretary Dessie Robinson said loss of working hours and income for SNAs constitutes a breach of the Haddington Road agreement (HRA). Mr Robinson explained that IMPACT has expressed this view to the Department of Education and Skills. “The department continues to avoid getting into a discussion about the problem, and has instead pointed the finger of blame at the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which oversees the annual allocation of the SNA service,” he said.

The ballot paper motion seeks “A firm commitment from the Department of Education and Skills that no SNA will have their working hours or income reduced once there is work available in the school, as determined by the NCSE allocation, prior to any new member of staff being recruited for that school.”

Mr Robinson said that individual SNAs have suffered in recent years as individual posts are broken down into, in some cases, just a few hours a week. “That’s not a good development for children who rely on the service, and it has made it impossible for many SNAs to make any kind of living from their work,” he said.

In 2014, IMPACT highlighted the issue of the fragmentation of SNA posts when 365 additional posts were announced in the 2015 Budget. IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said he hoped the additional posts would contribute to reversing the harmful work pattern that was emerging.

Mr Callinan added “This is a needs-based service delivered by extremely dedicated staff. The service has created opportunities for children with special education needs to realise their full potential, and every SNA is a champion of that opportunity. But by breaking down posts, and hiring in more SNAs instead of allocating work to those SNAs already employed, the service is being compromised and SNAs are denied the chance to make a living from their work.”

IMPACT’s four SNA branch committees are to meet to consider the outcome of the ballot and the type of industrial action to be taken. The union’s Education divisional executive will meet on 8th April to discuss the ballot outcome.