IMPACT was privileged to be joined at its education conference in Cork on Thursday by four of the Unison teaching assistants from Derby, who fought a 10-month action over unilateral cuts to their pay by their employer, Derby County Council. The dispute came to an end in March this year.
There are around 244,000 TAs in English schools. Under the English system, they are employed by local councils, rather than being directly employed by the education department.
As a consequence of this arrangement, a national policy known as the ‘single status policy’ had a hugely detrimental effect on their terms and conditions. According to the policy, teaching assistants pay arrangements were to be brought into line with those applicable to other council staff. It had previously been the convention to model TA pay on teachers’ pay. The change meant that TAs no longer received payment outside of term time.
Councils reacted in various ways to the change. Some adjusted their procedures to ensure a minimal financial impact on workers. Others, however, such as Derby, invoked the nuclear option, the net result of which, was the imposition of a 25% pay cut on a large section of an already underpaid group of workers.
Remarking on this situation, IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said that “what has happened in Derby serves as a stark example of what can happen when control over the pay of non-teaching staff is devolved away from a central, transparent system.”
In relation to its own members, IMPACT has argued that school secretaries and caretakers should be treated as public servants for the purposes of pay and, therefore, be paid by the department.
Anything less, Kevin said, “will ultimately lead to an erratic and unfair two-tier pay system in which non-teaching staff are once again treated as second-class citizens.”
Conference was addressed by three of the Derby strikers. In her remarks, Becky Everett explained how “in September 2016 staff at work were discussing the annual Christmas party” Becky, however, couldn’t attend “due to a reduction in wages.”
She also told conference that her “youngest son has had to cut extra-curricular activities.”
Becky went on to ask whether those in education authorities would “sit back at their desks and carry on” if they had suffered a 25% reduction in pay.
“I’m not asking for a pay rise. I’m not asking for anything more than I had before. I’m fighting for what is mine” she added.
Another of the campaigners, Julia Redfern, meanwhile, told conference that “together we are stronger.”
In March this year, after ten months on the picket line, Derby County Council and the strikers reached a resolution to the long-running dispute. The deal includes a small compensation package for most of the workers affected, crucially it also reinstated the 52-week year.
Kevin congratulated them on their perseverance and bravery in the face of real adversity. “They stand as an example to us all” he said.