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Education workers battle for equal pay

Education workers across Britain are fighting back for better pay and against cuts
Issue 2905
GMB teachers education picket

Education workers at Beeches School Picket Line (Picture: GMB Midlands)

Around 1,500 teaching assistants, catering staff and other workers at 35 schools in Birmingham struck on Tuesday. 

The GMB union members are targeting Sats exam week as part of their battle to stop the council delaying equal pay settlements. 

The dispute relates to claims staff in female-dominated roles, such as teaching assistants, have historically been underpaid in relation to those in male-dominated areas. 

GMB organiser Alice Reynolds said, “Birmingham’s equal pay crisis only ends when council bosses’ hand back the wages they have stolen from women workers.” 

The strike comes amid a wider crisis of massive cuts pushed through by the Labour-led council. Birmingham council issued a section 114 notice effectively declaring bankruptcy in September. 

Its leaders pointed to an equal pay liability of about £760 million and a £100 million bill to fix a failed IT system upgrade. This led councillors to pass the biggest local authority cuts in history. Now questions are being asked about the basis on which these cuts were made. 

Axe Max Caller—“Max the Axe”—who the government sent in on £1,200 a day to make the cuts, told one meeting that the current equal pay figure would eventually be replaced by a “real number”.

Research by James Brackley, a lecturer in accounting at the University of Sheffield, found that the failed Oracle IT system was by far the council’s biggest financial problem, and its budget deficits “have little to do with the equal pay issue”.

Whatever the machinations at the top, it will take strikes, protests and occupations to stop the council’s assaults and to win equal pay justice.

  • Outsourced cleaning workers at Blackheath Prep private school in south London have voted to strike. The UVW union members voted 100 percent in favour of strikes after contractor Westgate Cleaning Services refused to pay them the London Living Wage of £13.15 an hour.

Workers also plan to take action because they want improvements in their terms and conditions. Santa Pérez, a migrant cleaner at Blackheath Prep and UVW member, said, “I’m overcome with emotion and glad about the results of the strike ballot.

“I am ready to strike because our demands are fair. “We are going to strike because we need a pay rise.” 


Schools in Merseyside and Hackney on strike

Education workers are fighting back. At the Blue Coat school in Liverpool, 70 education workers were to set to strike this week over workload and bullying management practices.

Staff expressed frustration at the lack of transparency within the current management. They put forward a resolution that would have seen more workplace democracy.

But management refused to sign and so NEU education union members voted to strike. NEU members at the school also r

aised safety concerns about the school buildings and equipment.

Staff were set to strike on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, and Tuesday and Thursday next week, 12 June and 13 June. Peter Middleman, regional secretary for the union, said, “NEU members often resort to purchasing supplies from out of their own pockets, highlighting the stark contrast in resource allocation.” Workers want “an effective mechanism for having their collective, professional voice heard,” he added.

At The Garden school in Hackney, east London, workers were set to strike this week over excessive workload. Workers planned action on Wednesday and Thursday of this week and for three days next week.

The strike is over directed time. That is when teachers are directed by their head teacher to work—with management placing excessive demands on teachers.

And workers at St Dominic’s school in Hackney have won a ballot to strike over workload and redundancies. They plan six days of strikes.


Universities and colleges action to save education 

Thousands of workers in Scotland’s further education colleges are set for escalation in the dispute over pay and other issues.

The EIS-Fela union executive wrote that without a settlement a strike would begin “on Monday 20 May, as an escalation of their current industrial dispute”.

The union added, “A further programme of strikes will take place with members in all colleges striking each day for nine days over a three-week period.” The union plans strikes on Monday and Thursday next week, 28, 30 and 31 May in week two and 3, 4, 5 and 7 June in week three. 

  • University bosses continue to take a sledgehammer to workers’ jobs in higher education. At London South Bank University (LSBU), the bosses plan to cut almost 300 jobs—mainly targeting academic staff. The bosses claim that the university has a £24 million deficit to make up.
  • At Aberystwyth university in west Wales, bosses plan to cut up to 200 jobs. A marking and assessment boycott is still in place at Goldsmiths University, where the bosses want to make a third of the academic staff redundant.

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