Education Minister welcomes suspension of school support worker strike

-Credit: (Image: Jonathan Porter/PressEye)
-Credit: (Image: Jonathan Porter/PressEye)


The Government has welcomed the suspension of planned industrial action by school support workers.

Thousands of non-teaching support staff had been due to strike on Monday and Tuesday in a dispute with employers over pay and grading.

The Nipsa and GMB unions had agreed to suspend action on both days to allow further discussions. A third union, Unite, said it would suspend action on Monday, pending the outcome of negotiations on the same day.

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The non-teaching staff, including bus drivers, classroom assistants and cleaning and canteen staff, took part in three days of action in May.

Nipsa deputy general secretary Patrick Mulholland said a “short window of opportunity” was in place to find a resolution.

On Monday evening, it was indicated that Unite had also suspended strike action for Tuesday.

Education Minister Paul Givan welcomed the move after “further positive and constructive engagement” on Monday.

He said he will continue to “work constructively with unions and my Executive colleagues to find a permanent resolution to the ongoing pay and grading dispute”.

“I do not underestimate the important role played by support workers both in the classroom and in the various roles they play in areas such as transport and catering to ensure that pupils who depend on them receive the vital support they deserve.”

Speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier, Mr Givan said he engaged with the unions last week, progress was made over the weekend and they met again on Monday morning.

He also told MLAs during questions for his department that he engaged directly with Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald, adding that they “identified a way forward that I believe can lead to a successful resolution”.

Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald outside the Treasury building in Westminster in a grey suit jacket and holding a green folder
Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald outside the Treasury building in Westminster -Credit:Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Mr Givan welcomed the suspension of the strike on Monday, adding there was concern around the impact it would have had on schools, particularly with a GCSE maths exam due to be held.

“There was a concern that we wouldn’t be able to have those exams go forward for everybody, and I think everyone in this house would agree that for those young people who have worked so hard not to have the opportunity to sit those exams would have been something that was unacceptable,” he said.

Mr Givan said his meeting with the unions on Monday morning was “very positive”.

“Schools are being contacted by the Education Authority to advise them that strike action shouldn’t be taking place tomorrow, but the unions are still going through officially their processes, but we are operating now on the assumption that schools will be able to open as normal tomorrow,” he said.

“We will continue to work on the finer details of this, because support staff who are in our classrooms, who are in our catering teams, who are driving the buses, are incredibly important, and I deeply value the work that they do.

“It is vitally important that this pay and grading review is resolved and we engage with Treasury, but we also look to our own resources within the Assembly to find a way forward, and I will continue to work constructively with the unions until we get a permanent solution.”

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