Teachers have every right to be furious as consecutive education ministers, first Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd and now the DUP’s Peter Weir, have treated them with a lack of respect, dignity and fairness.
Education minister, Peter Weir, claims there is no money for teachers and their schools, while his own party has been overseeing the greatest financial scandal in the history of \Northern Ireland, with upwards of £600 million wasted through blatant profiteering in Renewable Heating Incentive scheme.
The NI Executive has overseen a regime of austerity with severe cuts to education, healthcare and other vital public services. Meanwhile we have a long litany of scandals from NAMA, to Red Sky, to the Social Investment Fund to RHI.
The SF/DUP Executive signed off on a 0% wage increase for teachers in 2015/16 and a 1% wage increase for 2016/2017, and has threatened redundancies if teachers don’t take the deal. If the minister were to agree to their demand of a 1% wage increase, it would cost around £6 million – a drop in the bucket in comparison to the RHI scandal.
All of the teachers’ unions walked out of talks in October and are engaging in various forms of industrial action. The two largest teachers’ unions, INTO and NASUWT, have taken strike action.
Unfortunately, the smaller NAHT, UTU and ATL unions voted not take strike, opting for action short of a strike. This weakens the solidarity across the schools, yet the fight is not over and they can continue to ramp up their industrial action as talks continue to stall.
NASUWT has organised rolling strikes with a strike on 30 November in Belfast and Newtownabbey and a strike planned for 31 January in Derry City, Strabane, Mid Ulster, Fermanagh and Omagh. INTO staged a half-day strike on 18 January across the North, impacting over 800 schools.
Additionally, INTO have begun non-cooperation with the school inspectors, the ETI (Education and Training Inspectors), which has highlighted the extreme increase of teacher workload that has very little to do with student learning.
The media and the employers are trying to guilt trip teachers into staying silent, “for the good of the children.” But, the type of education students deserve is one that is fully funded, with teachers getting the dignity and pay they deserve. A demoralised workforce is a horrendous learning environment.
Parents, students, other unions and the general public should build solidarity for these teachers to help give them confidence to escalate their struggle. Solidarity will be key both amongst the five teachers’ unions in the North, but also across the labour movement.