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Classroom Assistants Dispute

category down | worker & community struggles and protests | news report author Wednesday December 05, 2007 08:22author by . Report this post to the editors

Call for Trade Union inquiry

Striking Classroom Assistant held a protest outside the Belfast office of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on Monday to demand a trade union inquiry into claims that the majority of Classroom Assistants have voted to accept managements offer.

The offer was forced through a meeting of the Joint Negotiating Council for education workers in Northern Ireland last Friday by the employers and GMB/UNISON. The decision was taken despite the opposition of the biggest non teaching education trade union, NIPSA, and the abstention of T&G.

During the period of strike action Stormont Education Minister Catriona Ruaine has made repeated calls for NIPSA to ballot its members. NIPSA has pointed out that every offer made by management has been brought to consultation meetings of members but in an effort to clarify the situation and to remove the Ministers excuse for not negotiating offered to ballot members last week. This offer was ignored.


Dear Mr Bunting

I am writing to you on behalf of NIPSA Classroom Assistants in the SEELB area to seek your help and support in our job evaluation dispute.

As you will be aware, we have been engaged in a major battle to stop cuts in the terms and conditions of Classroom Assistants and to achieve full payment of the job evaluation money owed to us by the employers since 1995. Our employers have now forced through a draconian offer at a meeting of the Joint Negotiating Council for Education on Friday 30 November. In forcing it through, Management used the excuse that the majority of Classroom Assistants had voted for the offer in trade union consultation ballots. In our view this is completely untrue. It is clear that the majority of Classroom Assistants have not voted for the offer.

Unfortunately some of our sister trade unions have provided a cover for management’s position. This has brought the trade union movement as a whole into disrepute and opens up very serious questions about the democratic rights of trade union members.

We are, therefore, calling on the ICTU as the umbrella body for all the trade unions involved in this dispute to carry out an open inquiry into the balloting and consultation procedures used by the following trade unions who were or became involved in this dispute; NIPSA, UNISON, GMB, T&G and ATL.

We believe that any such inquiry panel should be composed of independent and respected lay trade union members from unions other than those listed above.

We believe that only an inquiry can assist in exposing management’s propaganda thereby assisting Classroom Assistants in achieving a just settlement to this dispute. We firmly believe that an inquiry is the only way that union members in education will receive assurance that their democratic rights are and will continue to be properly protected.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours Sincerely
Brian Booth
Branch Secretary NIPSA 517

author by Jane - Classroom Assistantpublication date Wed Dec 05, 2007 13:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I heard that Nipsa are taking this to court which in my opinion is the best way forward, us fighting with other unions just makes us stoop to their level and the press love to see us fightng, I say hold our heads high and take em to the courts, Nipsa have been right all along and Im proud to be part of a fighting union full of experienced and well informed officials.

author by Katie - Classroom assistantpublication date Wed Dec 05, 2007 16:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I agree with Jane,its a shame the unions couldnt stick together but we would be making a big mistake if we start rowing in public.The media would crucify us and the trade union community would be badly damaged.I joined nipsa to support the action and I have nothing but praise for the time and effort put in by John Corey in particular,but all his officials too,they kept us well informed and supported us on the picket lines when we were out.

author by Heartenedpublication date Wed Dec 05, 2007 23:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I was heartened to see the following letter in Monday's Irish News, demonstrating Republican SF's continued support for the Classroom Assistants:

Striking classroom assistants 'are an inspiration to all exploited workers'

PAUL Butler (December 1) speaks with the forked tongue which has long been associated with the Provisionals.

Whilst claiming to support the classroom assistants and their right to strike, he subsequently condemns the format of their industrial action.

He argues that there is an "unacceptable impact" on children at special needs schools.

However, we in Republican Sinn Féin recognise that it is the refusal by management for some 12 years to treat them equitably which has affected the education of these children.

The Provos - both through Mr Butler and Stormont education minister Caitríona Ruane - seek to pressurise Nipsa into halting their strike action and accepting an entirely inadequate offer.

It is hardly surprising that they would wish to undermine the democratic processes of a union, given the fact that they represent a party which has systematically ignored the democratic processes within its own structures.

It is time that the Provos dropped all pretence of defending Republican and Socialist values, and ceased styling themselves as Sinn Féin - an organisation they departed from 21 years ago.

We in Sinn Féin (i.e. Republican Sinn Féin) will continue to support those seeking to protect their employment rights and believe that the striking classroom assistants are an inspiration to all exploited workers.

Sinn Féin Poblachtach

author by solidarity seekerpublication date Thu Dec 06, 2007 10:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I agree with Jane and Katie that unions fighting among themselves is an unfortunate situation. They quite rightly say the press will have a "Field day". However what has to be wieghed up is what are the consequences of brushing thing under the carpet. It is a well known fact that "Behind the scenes" many trade union officials have differences of opinion and heated debate about tactics. This situation however is in a completely different league. When another union deliberatately and quite cynically undermines industrial action by a "Sister" union you have to ask the question "Whose side are they on"? Don't forget any benifits gained by NIPSA would have applied to their own members too. So what possible reason could they have to try and scupper NIPSA's action? They obviously have another agenda that not only goes against NIPSA's aims it puts their own members interests into second place, a situation that no union member can tolerate. This leaves those who have trade unions and more importantly trade union values at heart with no option but to expose the dirty and secret dealings, even though it may look bad for a time, if the result is unions getting back to basics then it will be worth it. It is worth noting that the attacks are not on the unions themselves, (the rank and file members are still our brothers and sisters) but the leaderships of these unions who seem to be embarking on some kind of unofficial social partnership with management/government.

author by John - NIPSApublication date Thu Dec 06, 2007 16:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

In my opinion that is utter nonsense from RSF. Classroom assistants have a legitimate demand which we don't need to be damged by associations with extremists like RSF.

author by Offended by John's commentspublication date Thu Dec 06, 2007 18:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I must disagree with the remarks made by "John - NIPSA'".

Republican Sinn Féin are not 'extremists' - but are simply those who continue to adhere to Republican principles. I think it is great that they have stated their support for the Classroom Assistants who were, until recently, on strike. Right-wing fascists in the Provos may have sought to undermine the industrial action, but RSF have continued to defend the interests of the Irish people.

author by workerpublication date Thu Dec 06, 2007 20:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Excellent letter from Mr. Breathnach of RSF, was also great to see the statement in support from ye as well a few days ago!

author by Ciarán Ó Brolcháinpublication date Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:04author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Does anyone else feel that that RSF letter is as much (jf not more) about bashing the Shinners as supporting the classroom assistants?

On another note, I realise this is only two-and-a-half months late but I've finally got the videos from the march and rally on 26 September 2007 uploaded. Good to see NIPSA have stuck to their guns since this began.

Alison Miller -
Cecilia Mullen -
John Corey -
Peter Bunting -
Janette Murdock -

author by Emma - Classroom Assiatantpublication date Fri Dec 07, 2007 20:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Am Glad to hear from the mouth of Peter Bunting that he "will stand with us until this dispute is resolved"...Go so glad of your support and the support of ICTU...DONT LET US DOWN!!!!!!

author by Maureen - classroom assistantpublication date Sat Dec 15, 2007 13:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I don't like the outcome of the dispute any more than anybody else,in fact I stand to lose badly out of it but I am still horrified as are many others at the undignified public name calling and squabbling between the unions that has sullied the whole thing.You shouldnt wash ur dirty linen in public and if a family has a quarrel it should be sorted out amongst the family.The management must be laughing,the unions are doing themselves more damage than they ever could and people will just walk away from the unions if this goes on.Talk about 'mutually assured destruction'! I admire John Corey and nipsa for doing their best for us but the nipsa genral counsel now needs to get a grip on this.

author by Linda - Classroom Assistantpublication date Thu Dec 20, 2007 10:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I totaly agree with you, now the offers of buy out are out among members and i know some of the classroom assistants I know will sign this, partly because they are sickened of the way certain branches of Nipsa have let us down by public name calling of other unions. I joined a Union becasue thats wat I thought it was..unity...wise up and sort this out in the courts before more members leave.

author by solidarity seekerpublication date Tue Jan 15, 2008 13:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There has been much huff and puff, claim and counter claim, attacks and responses. Now the figures are out, Let's see how certain Unions try and justify their actions.
Some Unions made outragous claims. GMB balloted 1570 members and got a 4-1 vote in favour of acceptance. UNISON spoke for 2500 members, and then claimed after their ballot a Majority of classroom assistants had accepted the offer. NIPSA however simply claimed to represent the majority of classroom assistants.So here are the figures obtained from the Education and Library Boards under the freedom of information act (Not suprisingly they wouldn't issue the figures until this was invoked).
The figures speak for themselves, but it's worth noting. As the GMB balloted 1570 members and got a 4-1 yes vote, their NO vote was still 314, so every GMB classroom assistant could of voted against the deal, yet still had it forced upon them. UNISON claimed 80% in favour of the deal (they were carefull to avoid ballot figures) but the maths is simple, 736 voted in favour. Taking GMB's 4-1 vote but applying it to their actual CA figures =195 in favour. Grand total 931 in favour 2679 against. Deal accepted , R.I.P democracy.
This is without even going into the nature of the ballots. UNISON's, we'll bring you the ballot paper, we'll stand over you while you vote, we'll take the ballots away, we'll count the ballots. What kind of sham democracy is that?

author by Mags - Classroom assistantpublication date Tue Feb 05, 2008 14:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

What this shows is that half of all the classroom assistants are not in any union,so even if all the ones who are went out it wouldnt have been enough to do anything.Nipsa were the only ones who couldnt see that and they dragged some of their people out-not all of them,the ones in my school refused to go and so did others in other schools-for over a week for nothing.I am not a union member but if I was I would not join one that behaved that stupidly.

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