William Eichler 21 October 2016

Derby council ‘pointlessly escalating’ pay dispute, union claims

A union has accused Derby council of ‘inflaming tensions’ over a pay dispute with school support staff, while teaching assistants vote for industrial action in Durham.

Derby City Council is proposing to change the terms and conditions of teaching assistant contracts so that school support staff are only paid for the hours they work.

The aim is to equalise pay across the council workforce in order to prevent any potentially costly future equal pay claims.

However, teaching assistants in Derby claim the move could see their pay slashed by up to 25% and so began a two-day strike yesterday.

Staff had planned to distribute balloons and stickers to parents and children to raise awareness for their case, but the council threatened to call the police.

They claimed the union’s tactics would conflict with the council’s ‘safeguarding’ duties to the children.

‘Derby City Council is pointlessly escalating this dispute by involving the police,’ said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.

‘It is a ridiculous notion that these dedicated members of staff who work with children day in, day out, are now somehow putting them at risk by simply handing out stickers.

‘The police undoubtedly have more pressing matters to deal with.’

Responding to Unison’s criticism, the council said: ‘We expect any industrial action to take place without any incident. However, we reserve the right to alert police as our priority is the safeguarding of all children.’

Meanwhile, teaching assistants in Durham have voted for strike action over a pay dispute with the county council.

As in Derby, Durham is attempting to move school support staff over to term-time only contracts in order to equalise pay across the workforce.

Unison claims the proposed changes could see support staff lose up to 23% of their wages.

The union balloted a total of 1,755 teaching assistants on the question of whether to take industrial action and 93% of members who responded voted in favour.

‘This huge vote has taken place against a backdrop of bullying by councillors, head teachers and church leaders, all of whom should have known better,’ said Mr Prentis.

‘These are low-paid women workers who deserve much better from their employer – a Labour council.

‘Even at this late stage there’s still time for councillors to think again and agree to reverse their decision to slash the pay of these workers by nearly a quarter.’

Durham County Council’s head of education, Caroline O’Neill, responded: ‘We are obviously very disappointed that following lengthy discussions with trade unions and ACAS, two consultations, and extensive efforts to mitigate the impact of paying our valued staff only for the hours they actually work, Unison members have taken this decision.

‘Throughout this process we have been really clear that this is not a situation we would want to be in, but one that - like all but one other council in the North East and many nationally - we have a legal and moral duty to deal with, due to the huge potential for extremely costly equal pay claims by other staff, which could put council services and jobs at risk.’

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