Teachers in Northern Ireland will consider longer periods of strike action if no resolution can be reached in a long-running dispute over pay, union leaders have warned.
The leaders of the five recognised teaching unions have predicted that strike action planned for later this month and next year will close every school in the region.
The Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council (NITC), comprising the five recognised trade unions, said members would strike for 12 hours from midnight on November 29th.
In an escalation of their action, the NITC said teachers would also strike for four full days next spring on dates to be agreed.
Announcing the strike action at a press conference in Belfast, Mark McTaggart from the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), appealed to the government to reach a resolution with teachers, or else unions would consider longer strike action.
He said that teachers who are being trained in Northern Ireland are being forced to leave to find better paid work elsewhere.
“We have all five unions taking part in this (strike action),” Mr McTaggart said.
“Every teacher, every school leader will be a member of one of those five unions.
“We would anticipate if our members follow the action then every school across the North will be closed.”
He added: “The next step would be further strikes of longer duration.
“We are doing one day a month, we may have to look at two days, three days. If the government wants to settle, it knows how to settle.
“Give teachers a proper pay rise, fund education properly. The ball is in their court.
“We have to ensure that our members can get a wage [that] allows them to stay here and to continue to do the excellent work they have been doing over the past number of years.”
Teachers, along with other public sector workers in Northern Ireland, have been involved in industrial action in recent months amid ongoing disputes about wages and conditions.
Members of the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU), the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), INTO and the National Education Union (NEU) went on strike in February.
They were joined in further industrial action in April by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which went on strike for the first time in its history in relation to pay, leading to the closure of most schools in Northern Ireland.
Pressure on public finances in Northern Ireland has meant it has not been possible to offer a pay award to public sector workers this year.
Jacquie White from the Ulster Teacher’s Union (UTU) and chairwoman of NITC, said: “Teachers and school leaders have been on action short of strike for more than a year, and there is no sign that the Department of Education or the Secretary of State (Chris Heaton-Harris) are in any rush to settle this dispute.
“It is high time they realised that our members are serious about seeking an urgent resolution to this untenable situation, and for that reason we are announcing five days of strike action.
“No teacher wants to take this action; however, we now feel that management side has left us with no other option.”
Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT said the pay gap between teachers in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK had reached “epic proportions”.
“Teachers simply cannot continue as if everything is normal,” Mr McCamphill said.
“Teachers are angry and are prepared to step up strike action in order to achieve a level of pay which allows them to provide for their families.
“Urgent action is now needed to address our concerns.
“The Secretary of State needs to come out of hiding and ensure that the education system in Northern Ireland is properly funded.”
Graham Gault from NAHT said teachers in Northern Ireland had waited three years for a pay rise.
“In this time, as colleagues in every other jurisdiction on these islands have seen successive increases in remuneration, the teaching profession in Northern Ireland has been left very far behind,” Mr Gault said.
“The status quo is intolerable and simply will not be accepted. Today’s announcement must be a turning point.”
Pauline Buchanan from the NEU added: “Teachers carry out vital work for the children of today, the workforce of tomorrow and shape education for generations to come and deserve at the very least, a decent pay rise, now.”
Department of Education permanent secretary Dr Mark Browne said the department is “forced to work within the challenging position imposed on it by the reduced allocation that education has received in the Secretary of State’s budget”.
He said the department “fully understands” the frustration of teachers, and said it is “regrettable that the department has been unable to offer teachers a pay award for the past three years similar to other jurisdictions”.
“But it is simply unaffordable within an inadequate education budget,” he said.
“It is therefore very disappointing that NITC has decided to call for a half day strike next week and on four further occasions next year.
“Continued strike action by trade unions serves only to cause disruption to the education of those who least deserve it, our children and young people, at a time when the department is forced to work within the challenging position imposed on it by the reduced allocation that education has received in the secretary of state’s budget.”
A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: “The UK government has no authority to negotiate pay in Northern Ireland – it will be for the NI Department of Education to make final decisions on teachers’ pay policies.
“It remains the Secretary of State’s priority to see the return of locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government, which is the best way for Northern Ireland to be governed.
“The Secretary of State has commissioned a range of information and advice from the Northern Ireland Civil Service on potential measures to raise more public revenue, or otherwise to improve the sustainability of public finances in Northern Ireland, for an incoming executive to consider.” – PA