“WE don’t want to be out on strike, but we have to,” was the message from the picket line outside Holy Trinity Primary School.
The Enniskillen-based school was one of many in Fermanagh whose teachers came out on a half-day strike, yesterday, in protest against low pay and increased workloads.
Unions state that salaries have not matched the rate of inflation since 2010 with teachers, depending on what their pay-grade is, losing money ranging from £44,669 to £76,064 over that 13-year period.
The pay-cuts have also impacted on pensions which mean they now have to pay more into their pension plans and work longer to receive less when they retire.
Yesterday’s action meant a number of parents were inconvenienced as they had to make arrangements for childcare or even to take time off work themselves to look after their children.
However, an NASUWT union representative – who asked not to be named – said that while they didn’t want to put parents out, they felt they had no other choice.
The union rep said: “We want to avoid all other disruption but we feel like this is the last resort. We don’t want to be out here on strike. We don’t want to do it but we have to do it.
“But at this stage, we feel like we have no other choice.
“I suppose the reason you have to do this is to cause some sort of minor disruption. We don’t feel good about doing it but we need to get our point across.
“We’re important, the kids are important and we realise this is having an impact on other people which we’re not particularly happy about, but it’s the reality of the situation with lots of other sectors doing it as well.”
The increased workload that teachers have had is also a bone of contention with 91 per cent of NASUWT members saying it had affected their mental health with 64 per cent stating that their physical health has also been impacted too.
The NASUWT union rep added: “Pay is one of the reason’s what the dispute is about but it is not the only one. There’s a misconception that this strike is only about pay.
“It’s also about workload and about making sure that education is funded properly throughout schools in the North.
“Regarding workload, there are lots of new initiatives that are coming in that are not workload-assessed and how the impact on the day-to-day work that we do with the kids.
“We spend a lot of time working on stuff that is not having a direct impact on the children. So we want to get rid of that sort of stuff and we want to make sure that our work has a positive impact with the children.
“As for pay, in real terms, we’ve been taking a 30 per cent pay-cut since 2010 if you compare pay in line with inflation. That is not good enough and we deserve better than that – that’s why we’re out here today.
“Work to rule wants to be avoided at all costs. There have been suggestions that strike actions will be escalated to full days and work to rule but we’re not exactly sure if that will be the case yet.
“However, it’s certainly a possibility. We want to keep doing the things with children that are going to positively impact on them as much as possible.”
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