COUNTY Durham teaching assistant representatives have recommended colleagues accept the latest offer when they respond to a new ballot due to take place shortly.

Members of trade union Unison are due to vote on a new offer for teaching assistants working for Durham County Council, who have been engaged in a increasingly bitter dispute over their contracts.

The latest offer, designed to reduce the risk of equal pay claims from other council employees, was approved by the authority last month and would see teaching assistants work 37 hours a week and 40 weeks a year with a revised grading structure.

A statement by Unison says teaching assistants stewards, who have been working with the union and council to try and resolve the dispute, have agreed to back a “yes” vote in the upcoming ballot.

However, the County Durham Teaching Assistants Action Committee, a grassroots campaign body set up in response to the dispute, has said accepting the offer is not the advice of the majority of its members.

The deal would see 22 per cent of teaching assistants face a pay cut.

A blog post written by one of the stewards says: “As a teaching assistant and a Unison steward I am backing the latest deal from Durham County Council. Not because I am selfish or have ‘jumped ship’ but because, having been heavily involved in negotiations with Unison and the council and clearly understanding all of the options that have been investigated, I genuinely believe this is the way to get the best deal for all TAs.

“I know that there are still 472 TAs facing a potential loss but there are significant differences between this deal and the last deal.”

Part of the revised offer includes the establishment of a progression board, thought to be the first of its kind in the country, which would work to reduce the losses for anyone facing a pay cut after two years.

The action committee says it plans to release a further statement shortly.