A GOVERNMENT arbitration service may be brought in to try to head off a threat of strikes at primary schools across East Cleveland.

Unions say school cooks have been given a 40 per cent pay rise while facing a 30 per cent reduction in work hours.

Non-teaching staff - nursery and classroom auxiliaries and administrative workers - risk losing up to £4,000 each with proposals to reduce hours, pay staff pro rata and cut holiday pay.

John McCormack is Unison branch secretary at Redcar and Cleveland Council and spokesman for the joint trade unions.

He said: "We have had consultative ballots on both and we are about to tell the non-teaching staff at the schools that both have come out in favour of industrial action.

"We have got the backing of the teaching unions.

"Governors and parents of children should be appalled by the attacks on people who are helping to teach their children and we would wish them to join with us and write to local councillors asking that these cuts don't go ahead."

"Staff feel betrayed. Morale is absolutely rock bottom. It is absolutely horrendous."

A spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council said yesterday: "The council is not looking for confrontation.

"We want to continue to get round the table and discuss the issues with the aim of reaching an amicable solution.

"Having spoken to the unions this morning, they are willing to continue with discussions while reserving their right to take industrial action.

"There is a willingness on both sites to work positively on these issues."

Mr McCormack had been poised to register an official dispute with the council yesterday, when he was offered a meeting about the catering staff next week.

"Hopefully, there will be some movement from the local authority which could be good news for our members," he said.

"As for the non-teaching staff, we are quite happy to have a meeting with Acas.

"We are hoping that will be early in February.

"With commonsense there will be no disruption to children's education in the borough," he said.