CAMPAIGNERS pressing for changes to controversial plans to dismiss, rehire and cut the pay of teaching assistants have criticised a union after it negotiated a new pay deal in a bid to end the long-running dispute. 

School workers are set to vote on the revised offer after it was approved by Durham County Council by 56 votes to 32. 

Following months of negotiations and strikes, the authority has agreed to suspend notices of dismissal and re-engagement and has agreed a grading structure for teaching assistants – which will see 78 per cent get a pay rise – should be put to a ballot of trade union members.

Loading article content

Trade union Unison welcomed the news, but members of the County Durham Teaching Assistants Activists Committee, which had written to councillors to ask for a delay, said they were disappointed by the decision.

Spokeswoman Gillian Iveson said: “We’re disappointed the union is using a divide and conquer technique. We have to think about the 472 who are still losing money. That’s a huge number.

“They have said they will work with them over the next two years, but we feel the last few stages have been rushed. They’ve had 21 months and another couple of months would be better than two years of uncertainty for those people.”

She added: “We hope people will stick together and show the solidarity they have had over the last 21 months. We’ve had a great campaign and had a majority of teaching assistants with us. I hope that continues.”

The council, which first put forward proposals to alter teaching assistants' contracts in 2015 following legal advice that it was at risk of equal pay claims, has set out a 37-hour a week contract and a 40-week per year contract, while pay will be linked to grade, hours and weeks worked.

At the end of a two-year period and following the introduction of new job descriptions and grading structure, it is forecast that 1,906 of the 2,168 teachings assistants would receive an increase in pay.

Meanwhile, 472 people would see their pay decrease, with 27 seeing a loss of more than ten per cent.

Cllr Jane Brown, the member responsible for human resources at the council, said: “The proposed offer demonstrates progress has been made by all sides and is a significant improvement.”

She added: “It’s very important to remind all members when they are being asked to vote that the recognised trade unions have indicated they are willing to ballot on this.”

Cllr Olwyn Gunn, the council's new member for children's services and young people, said: "We are seeking to resolve a difficult issue while recognising the work of teaching assistants across our schools. 

"I would call for cross-party support in the interest of our schools and all of our employees."

Unison Northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “Several months of tough talking later, a revised and improved offer has been proposed that will benefit the majority of teaching assistants.

“Strikes and relentless campaigning by dedicated teaching assistants, along with the support of the community have been crucial in moving the council from its original position.

"Dismissing, rehiring and cutting the pay of so many education professionals would have risked many quitting their jobs. That would have had a huge impact in the classroom.

“Both sides have worked hard to reach agreement over the past few months. The union is absolutely committed to continuing to work with the council to secure the best possible outcome for everyone.”

Opposition councillors criticised the late delivery and level of detail in the report.

Liberal Democrat councillor Owen Temple said: "Yes there are gains and I don't dispute that letters of dismissal should be withdrawn. What really disappoints me about this is we have been given so little information about the people who are losing out. 

"We can't vote on a proposal with so few details. It's like signing a blank cheque."