County Durham teaching assistants call off strike after 'positive talks'

Teaching assistants on a previous demo outside County Hall in Durham.

Teaching assistants on a previous demo outside County Hall in Durham.

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Teaching assistants in County Durham who were due to strike this week and next have called off any industrial action.

The school support staff employed by Durham County Council had been about to take their fifth day of action tomorrow, followed by a further three days next week.

But following the announcement that the council would be suspending its plans to dismiss and re-employ the teaching assistants on new contracts from January, Unison decided this was enough to call off the strikes.

Northern regional secretary, Clare Williams, said: “Disputes are only ever solved through negotiation.

"At last there can be proper talks, without the threat of huge pay cuts hanging over teaching assistants’ heads.

“Everyone is hoping that councillors now act in good faith, abandon their pay cut plans once and for all, and show how much they value their brilliant teaching assistants.”

General secretary Dave Prentis said: "This is an important step in the fight to protect Durham teaching assistants from pay cuts that would mean financial hardship for families who are already struggling.

"But there’s still plenty of work to do in the weeks ahead to make sure school support staff don't lose out.

“Thankfully the county council has been listening and – realising it was up against the incredible passion and dedication of its teaching assistants and the support of an entire community – has decided upon a different approach.

"Councillors now have a real opportunity to show they value the work of these vital education staff, and to pay them what they deserve.”

John Hewitt, corporate director of resources at Durham County Council, said: “I am pleased to say these talks have been positive and productive and an agreement has

been reached which means tomorrow’s industrial action by teaching assistants in Unison has been called off.

“We are clear that an equal pay risk exists that needs to be addressed.

"However it is also important to properly examine aspects of the employment of teaching assistants which, merit further review given some of the information which has come to light recently.

“We have agreed to undertake a review of teaching assistants’ role, function, job description and activities within the breadth of school activities, to establish whether current job descriptions adequately describe the role being undertaken.

“This review will not re-open the single status agreement currently in place.

"The timescale for its completion is by September 1, 2017.

“To enable this to take place, as an act of good will, we have agreed we will suspend the dismissal and re-engage process while the review is undertaken within the timescale above.

“This is a very complex situation and it has also resulted in us having further discussions with other recognised trade unions.

"We look forward to working with these trade unions on the way forward and very much appreciate Unison’s decision to call off tomorrow’s planned action.”