Councillors in County Durham backed a proposal to make a fresh offer to teaching assistants (TAs) yesterday, Wednesday. But it's not good enough and TAs are threatening to campaign against it.
The Labour-run council had once threatened to sack and rehire the TAs in their attempt to slash their pay. But a a big campaign and four days of strikes at the end of last year forced the council to back down and agree to a review.
Just as the council was coming under more pressure, Unison union officials saved it by suspending action without consulting members.
The council now says it would withdraw the sacking threat and introduce new job descriptions and grading structure. But the document produced for councillors clearly stated that 22 percent of TAs “would experience a reduction in pay” after a “two year compensation period”.
More worryingly, the document raises question for those TA who cannot work extra hours. It notes that the number losing pay “assumes that all staff will work, where required, the additional hours to mitigate the impacts of these proposals”.
Will TAs who are set to see an increase in pay lose out if they cannot work extra hours?
The TAs' committee wrote to all councillors to express “disappointment and serious concerns” at the offer and ask them to delay the vote. But a motion to do so and further scrutinise it was voted down by 55 councillors to 32 yesterday.
Labour councillor Jane Brown said the deal was a “significant improvement” and that “the recognised trade unions have indicated they are willing to ballot on this”.
Delegates at the national conference of Unison, which the majority of TAs are members of, must wonder why their general secretary Dave Prentis told delegates on Tuesday this dispute had “ended”.
Prentis also said, “They're now talking about pay increases, they're now talking about protection with nobody losing.”
It is not true. TAs still do not even now how the deal will affect them personally.
Socialist Worker asked Unison Northern regional secretary Clare Williams why Prentis said no TA is losing out from the deal. She said it was “because actually from day one no one is losing”.
This is misleading, at best. It may be true that for two years there is so-called protection, but it is clear that TAs will be losing out.
Asked if the union would be making a recommendation on the deal, Williams said, “We'll be going to a consultative ballot of our members. It'll be for them to make the decision about whether to accept it or not.”
Williams has had the opportunity to say more but told Socialist Worker she was unavailable. The incredible solidarity of the Durham TAs throughout the last 21 months should inform any deal.
The TAs are demanding that "Unison suspends the ballot on this offer and demand the council reopen talks to reach an agreement that leaves no TA on a worse salary than at present". They've set December as the deadline for sorting out a new offer.
If their demands are not met they warn they will be "actively advising members to reject this divisive and unfair proposal"
An attack on one is an attack on all. And unity is strength. Durham TAs can win better than this divisive offer.