Durham teaching assistants were out in force today in a bid to block proposed pay cuts.
The 300 school staff, who are members of UNISON, held the peaceful protest against Durham County Council's plans to change their contracts to term time working only, which they claim will result in a pay cut of up to 23% for the 2,700 staff employed as teaching assistants across the county.
Durham County Council has yet to announce a final decision, but the proposals have been vehemently opposed by staff since original discussions began last November.
Demonstrating on the last working day of the Easter holidays, TAs wanted to make their voice heard to councillors in advance of the next council meeting scheduled for Friday, April 13.
Helen Metcalf, Regional Organiser for UNISON said: “The turnout was fantastic and we got a lot of support from passing motorists. It was a peaceful demonstration in a bid to raise the profile of the issue.
"For our members, this is a life changing amount to face losing; for most it is equivalent to their mortgage or rental payment. How would anybody cope if their boss just suddenly cut their pay by such a massive amount.
"The impact is simply huge, and we believe that the council does have other options.
"Should this go ahead, there will be a knock on effect within our local economy and a potential skills drain for County Durham schools, should experienced teaching assistants be forced to seek work in other authorities, or leave the profession altogether.
"Our members work above and beyond their hours, not because they get paid for it, but because they love their job. Many run breakfast and after school clubs and even holiday clubs. It will be the children that suffer as well."
"Our consultative ballot, with a higher return than the threshold proposed in the Trade Union Bill, shows that the overwhelming majority of our members reject these proposals."
Durham County Council is considering changing pay structures from a 52 week salary to term time only pay, which could leave staff between £1,000 and £5,000 worse off.
Coun Jane Brown, cabinet member for corporate services at Durham County Council, said: “There are currently 2,700 teaching assistants working in schools across the county, most of whom are paid for more hours than they actually work and receive more paid leave than the other 17,000 council employees.
“This situation stems from an historic local arrangement and is something we are seeking to address on the basis of its inherent unfairness and inequality, which applies both within the working group of teaching assistants, with other school employees and across the rest of the council’s workforce.
“The vast majority of other councils across the country and within the region have, through agreement, implemented changes to teaching assistants’ terms and conditions, so that they are paid for the hours worked and on a term-time basis.
“The proposal for change is not related to a cost-cutting exercise for the council nor is it about reducing the rate of pay for the job. It is about fairness and paying teaching assistants for the hours and time that they work.
“Any financial savings from such a change would remain within school budgets.
“This is an issue related to fairness in respect of terms and conditions, with the fairest position being to pay teaching assistants for the hours they work on a term-time basis.”