An end could be in sight to the lengthy pay dispute between County Durham’s teaching assistants and Durham County Council. Talks yesterday between the council and Unison were said to be “positive and productive.”
Unison has agreed to call off the strike action it had planned for today and the council has promised to launch a review into the work the TAs perform – something that could have a significant effect on any pay settlement.
Unison had also planned three days of industrial action for next week. The union now says it will decide whether to go ahead with these after further discussions with the council.
Yesterday John Hewitt, the council’s corporate director of resources, said, “I am pleased to say tomorrow’s industrial action has been called off.”
“We have agreed to undertake a review of teaching assistants’ role, function, job description and activities within the breadth of school activities, to establish whether current job descriptions adequately describe the role being undertaken.”
Mr Hewitt added, “The timescale for its completion is by 1st September 2017.”
The long-running dispute was triggered by the council’s decision to dismiss its teaching assistants and then rehire them on new contracts. These new contracts would have led to TAs only being paid for the term-time hours they worked and not for holiday periods. The TAs, already low-paid workers, claimed this could lead to them losing up to £5,000 per year.
Durham County Council argued these changes were necessary to avoid expensive equal pay claims from employees who are already hourly-paid.
The council has now promised not to sack and rehire the TAs before its review is complete. The TAs could have been facing dismissal as early as December 31st.
Mr Hewitt commented, “We are clear that an equal pay risk exists that needs to be addressed. However, it is also important to properly examine aspects of the employment of teaching assistants which merit further review considering some information that has come to light recently.”
— TAsDurham(Official) (@TAs_Durham) November 30, 2016
Mr Hewitt thanked Unison for calling off this week’s strike and added, “This is a very complex situation and it has also resulted in us having further discussions with other recognised trade unions.”
“We look forward to working with these trade unions on the way forward and very much appreciate Unison’s decision to call off tomorrow’s planned action.”
Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said, “This is an important step in the fight to protect Durham teaching assistants from pay cuts that would mean financial hardship for families that are already struggling.”
“But there’s still plenty of work to do in the weeks ahead to make sure that school support staff don’t lose out.”
“Thankfully, the council has been listening.”
“Realising it was up against the incredible passion and dedication of its teaching assistants – and the support of an entire community – it has decided on a different approach.”
“Councillors now have a real opportunity to show they value the work of these vital educational staff and to pay them what they deserve.”
Durham’s teaching assistants have already taken four days of strike action in addition to announcing a work to rule. They seem to have been supported by parents and the wider community. The TAs also recently won the support of the City of Durham Constituency Labour Party.