Northern Ireland - Industrial Action FAQs

Why is strike action being planned now?

Teachers in Northern Ireland have suffered deep year-on-year pay cuts since 2011. Their pay has not only fallen behind other graduate professions but also behind the pay of teachers in England, Wales and Scotland.

The NASUWT has made clear to the Minister and to the Employers that we deeply regret having to escalate the industrial action to strike action. However, the goodwill, commitment and dedication of teachers and school leaders in Northern Ireland has been taken for granted for too long by the Employers.

The final straw in an unedifying catalogue of failure by the Employers and the Department of Education to address seriously the deep and genuine concerns of teachers about their pay was the offer, after months of fruitless discussion, of a 0% pay award for 2015-16.

There is simply no justification for a 0% pay offer. The money to fund a minimum 1% pay award for 2015-16 was included in the Block Grant allocation to the Northern Ireland Assembly. There is no justification for withholding a minimum 1% pay award.

Is strike action lawful?

The NASUWT continues to pursue a lawful trade dispute on pay, pensions, working conditions and jobs which has been recognised by the Education Minister.

The NASUWT’s plans for strike action are entirely lawful and members participating in the NASUWT industrial action will continue to be protected in law by the existing ‘YES’ vote from the ballot of all members conducted in 2011.

Can teachers who joined the NASUWT after 2011 participate in the strike?

Yes, provided you work for an employer covered by the dispute - see the list at www.nasuwt.org.uk/ActionNorthernIreland.

Why is industrial action important?

Industrial action is a right of employees as members of a trade union to participate in lawful action to defend their rights and entitlements at work.

Industrial action represents the collective voice of members of the union, and is an important way in which union members can stand together to demonstrate their opposition and anger to changes that are or would be detrimental to their terms and conditions of service, and also to protect their day-to-day working conditions.

Industrial action by the NASUWT has made a real difference for teachers on pay, pensions and working conditions, including workload, and in protecting jobs.

The NASUWT is the only union that has adopted a detailed and consistent programme of industrial action short of strike action that is pupil, parent and public friendly but which, at the same time, is designed to protect teachers.

The NASUWT has a track record of successful industrial action and when we have taken action in the past we have secured major gains for members and teachers. Determined industrial action does make a difference.

Why are NASUWT members taking industrial action?

The NASUWT is a pragmatic trade union.  It is an apolitical union and as such is committed to seeking to working constructively with all governments and administrations, regardless of their political colour.

The NASUWT has endeavoured to work constructively with the Department of Education and with the Employers to seek to address the concerns of members. Despite this, teachers have been subjected to relentless attacks through reforms and cuts to pay, pensions and jobs and unmanageable workload demands.

As a result, half of teachers are seriously considering quitting teaching altogether, two thirds feel professionally disempowered and over 97% do not believe the policies of the Northern Ireland Assembly will raise standards of education.

What difference has the NASUWT’s industrial action made?

A number of improvements have already been secured to prevent further unjustified changes to teachers’ pensions, and to secure some protections for teachers who are close to retirement age. As a result of pressure from the NASUWT action, agreement was reached on tiering of pension contributions, which means that those who earn the least pay least.

The Employers and the Department of Education have proposed a number of adverse changes to Performance Review and Staff Development (PRSD), including the removal of teachers’ entitlement to incremental pay progression. There would have meant significant salary losses for many teachers. These proposals were vigorously opposed by the NASUWT. As a result of action by the NASUWT, teachers eligible for incremental progression on the pay scale continue to have an entitlement to annual incremental pay progression.

NASUWT members have reported the positive difference the action short of strike action instructions have made in helping to tackle excessive workload. NASUWT members are reclaiming their professionalism and being empowered by:

  • not implementing any new or existing policies and working practices which have not been the subject of consultation and agreement with the NASUWT;
  • not accepting any classroom observation outwith PRSD;
  • not undertaking more than 20 hours’ cover for absence during the academic year;
  • not attending meetings outside school hours;
  • not carrying out routine administrative or clerical tasks;
  • not invigilating during public examinations;
  • not complying with marking and assessment policies which generate excessive workload;
  • not sending or responding to work-related emails outside directed time;
  • not participating in any activity related to an Education Training Inspectorate (ETI) inspection where members may be subject to an unfair and unequal workload burden being placed upon them.

In view of the financial pressures on the Northern Ireland Assembly, can the NASUWT justify taking strike action?

Reducing investment in schools is no way to secure the economic recovery that Northern Ireland needs. Attacking teachers’ pay and conditions is impacting adversely on the morale of teachers and on the attractiveness of teaching as a career for graduates.

Research evidence confirms that around two thirds of teachers are seriously considering quitting the teaching profession altogether. The only way to avert a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching is by investment and action by the Education Minister and by Employers to secure good terms and conditions for teachers.

The Northern Ireland Assembly really cannot afford to not give teachers a pay award that recognises the cost of living pressures impacting on teachers and which does not further exacerbate the decline in competitiveness with other graduate occupations.

The value of teachers’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen further and further behind pay in comparable graduate occupations. According to research by the independent body, Incomes Data Research, teachers’ starting pay is around 20% lower than the average starting pay in other graduate occupations.
 
Whilst teachers in Northern Ireland have been denied a pay award for 2015-16, teachers in England, Wales and Scotland have received a 1% uplift (minimum) to their pay for 2015-16 and a further uplift of 1% (minimum) for 2016-17. Teachers in Northern Ireland are being left behind.

To add insult to injury, the Northern Ireland Assembly has benefited from a funding settlement from the UK Government through the Block Grant, which provided for an average 1% increase to pay for all public sector workers in Northern Ireland, including teachers. There is simply no justification for this money being withheld from teachers as a result of the decisions of the Employers or the Department of Education.

How much pay will I be deducted for taking strike action?

Deduction of salary where teachers participate in strike action should be calculated on the basis of a deduction of pay for unauthorised leave of absence – i.e. 1/365th of annual salary. For part-time teachers participating in strike action, the deduction from salary should be in accordance with the proportion of time they would have worked on that day.

For example, a teacher on M6, with an annual salary of £32,186 would have £88.18 deducted for a day of strike action. If a part-time teacher would not normally teach on that day then they would not be taking strike action and would not suffer any deduction. If a part-time teacher on M6 teaches for the morning only on that day, the deduction should be £44.09. 

Will members be eligible to receive strike pay from the NASUWT?

The NASUWT does not reimburse members for lost pay for any strike action that involves all members across Northern Ireland or indeed across any nation/administration in which the Union organises.

The NASUWT understands the sacrifice that members will have to make in order to support the action. However, we believe that members’ financial pressures, both today and in the future, will be exacerbated by the failure of the Employers to provide any pay award for 2015-16.

Members since 2011 have had their pay cut, as illustrated in the following table, as a result of pay caps and freezes and increases in pension and National Insurance contributions.

Salary shortfalls

© NASUWT Salary shortfalls

What happens if I am ill on the day of the strike action? Will my pay be docked by my employer?

If you fall ill on the day of strike action you should report to your doctor to verify the illness. There is no legal requirement for you to do this but it can be helpful.  You may need to be able to demonstrate the steps you took to report to your employer (via your workplace) that you were ill. For example, an email with a delivery and read receipt, or a phone call, keeping a note of to whom you spoke and the time the call was made.

If you are faced with the situation where you were ill and your employer claims you were on strike, please contact the NASUWT Belfast Centre immediately.

Will participation in strike action affect continuity of service?

Time when an employee is on strike does not affect continuity of service. Taking a day's strike action does not constitute a break in continuous service.

Are redundancy entitlements affected if a teacher takes part in strike action?

The NASUWT is committed to challenging threats of compulsory redundancy and will continue to do so. A teacher who is redeployed to another school though does not get a redundancy payment.

The majority of teachers who leave the profession do not get a voluntary redundancy. In any case, the 'double redundancy scheme' which applied last year has already been significantly reduced for this year. Teachers who are made redundant by 31 August 2017 will now only receive a maximum compensation of 52-weeks. Indeed, it will only be a very small minority who even qualify for this level of compensation. It is likely in future years that compensation will be reduced even further, potentially to a maximum of 30-weeks.

If a member chooses to take voluntary redundancy, a day lost due to participation in strike action will not be counted towards final length of service calculations. There can be an impact on redundancy payments if the loss of those days of strike action reduces the number of full years of service completed at the time of redundancy. If a teacher has worked for exactly 20 years, the length of continuous service for redundancy pay purposes may be reduced and payment would then be based on 19, not 20, full years of service.


However, it should also be recognised that the loss of salary as a result of the failure of the Minister and Employers to provide a pay award for 2015-16 will have a significant detrimental impact on the value of any future redundancy payments and pension benefits. 

Will participation in industrial action reduce the future value of a teacher’s pension?

Most employers do not withhold employer pension contributions when strike action occurs and therefore participation in strike action may not necessarily affect future pensions.

Where superannuation contributions are to be withheld, the employer must report the strike day to Teachers' Pensions as an excluded day. For each day of strike action, this would have the effect of reducing the pensionable service build-up by one day.

The impact of an employer withholding pension contributions, even for lengthy periods of strike action, is extremely minimal and results in a deduction of between one and two pounds from the annual pension for a teacher on an average salary with 25 years’ of service. Because of the complexity of teachers’ pension reform, the method for assessing the impact of strike action on pension benefits is also complex and details are available at www.nasuwt.org.uk/PensionsNI.

The impact of strike action on a teacher’s pension is negligible, when compared with the impact of changes to Government policy, including future changes. Furthermore, given that each member’s life expectancy is generally unknown at the point of strike action, it is never possible to accurately predict any impact.

It is possible to purchase additional pension from the Northern Ireland Teachers’ Pension Scheme (NITPS) and details of this are available from:

Teachers’ Pensions
Waterside House
75 Duke St
Gobnascale
Derry, BT47 6FP

Telephone: 028 7131 9000

Email: teachers.pensions@education-ni.gov.uk

How could the strike action be avoided?

The NASUWT has written to the Minister and to the Employers to make clear that strike action can be avoided if:

  • the Employers come forward with a pay award for 2015-16 which improves on the final offer made. For the avoidance of doubt, the NASUWT has made clear that a 1% pay award split over the period 2015-16 and 2016-17 would be as unacceptable as the offer of 0% for 2015-16;
  • the Department of Education is prepared genuinely to engage with the NASUWT to seek to resolve its trade dispute.

The letters can be viewed at www.nasuwt.org.uk/ActionNorthernIreland.

If the NASUWT’s two demands are met, would that resolve the trade dispute?

No, but meeting our demands for at least the minimum 1% pay award for 2015-16 and willingness by the Minister to engage genuinely on the Union’s trade dispute would be important steps towards resolving the ongoing trade dispute and could avoid this round of escalation to strike action. 

Why is a rolling programme of strikes planned?

The NASUWT wants to maximise the impact of the strike action our members are taking over an extended period, whilst minimising potential salary loss for individual members.

Experience shows that spreading the action over a series of weeks keeps up the pressure on ministers and employers.

When will I be asked to participate in the rolling programme of strike action?

The NASUWT National Action Committee, in consultation with the National Executive Members for Northern Ireland, have laid plans for the programme of strike action. The first area will be announced on 7 November. As each area is announced, members will receive confirmation that their school is involved and the Employers will be sent the legal notice of strike action.

When will other strikes take place?

The NASUWT wants to maximise the impact of the strike action over an extended period. Following action in the first area in November, further strikes will be organised from January 2017. The rolling programme of strike action will not include December 2016. 

What will happen if progress is made before the commencement or the end of the rolling programme of strikes?

The NASUWT wants the Education Minister and the Employers to recognise the serious nature of members’ concerns about what has happened to their pay and conditions, and also to commit to genuine dialogue on other issues affecting members’ conditions of service. If genuine progress is made before or during the programme of rolling strikes, then this will be an important victory for NASUWT members.

It is only by continuing to apply pressure that the concerns of members will be taken seriously. If sufficient progress is made, then this is likely to mean that the rolling programme of strikes will be suspended.

Which members will take part in the strike action?

Members who will be asked to participate in the rolling programme of strike action will include members who work in:

  • controlled schools;
  • maintained schools;
  • voluntary grammar schools;
  • grant-maintained schools;
  • integrated schools;
  • Irish medium schools.

My school has had no say in the decision to withhold from teachers a pay award for 2015-16. How can we justify action being taken which would disrupt my school?

The legislation confirms that a trade dispute between a Minister and any workers shall be treated as a dispute between workers and their employer, if the dispute relates to matters which cannot be settled without the Minister exercising a power conferred on him by or under an enactment.

This means that because the detriment to teachers’ pay, pensions, working conditions and jobs arises from the decisions of the Education Minister, action which disrupts your school is legitimate.

Am I obliged to tell my employer that I will be participating in strike action?

It is the responsibility of the employer to notify schools that will be affected by industrial action.

In order to fulfil legal requirements, the Union has to provide employers with the number of NASUWT members taking industrial action within each workplace. However, no individual members’ names are supplied or should be supplied. 

Your employer may formally or informally request that you inform them in advance of the commencement of any action whether you will be taking part. You are under no legal obligation to inform your employer in advance whether you will be participating in strike action or action short of strike action and members should decline to provide this information if asked.

However, if you are asked by your employer after the action whether you participated, you should answer truthfully.

Teachers in some schools have been told that their school does not recognise the NASUWT and therefore members cannot take part in industrial action. Is that correct?

No. The dispute is with the Ministers in Northern Ireland. The relevant legislation confirms that a dispute with a Minister will be treated as a dispute with the Employer where the dispute relates to matters which cannot be settled without the Minister exercising a power conferred on him/her by legislation.

It is therefore irrelevant for these purposes whether the employer claims not to recognise the NASUWT.

Will any members be exempt from participating in NASUWT industrial action?

The NASUWT National Action Committee will issue detailed guidance to members in advance of the industrial action. This will explain what is expected and what, if any, exemptions will apply to particular groups of members.

Will members in schools that have been notified of an ETI inspection be exempt from taking part in the strike action?

The strike action includes all members. Where an ETI inspection is scheduled to take place on the day of the strike action, members will continue to be covered by the protection of the industrial action and should demonstrate their solidarity by taking part in the strike.

Why can’t we just take a half-day strike action?

Serving notice for half-day strike is very complex and it always runs the risk of employers attempting to dock a full day’s pay even if the strike was for only half a day.

Will there be a date for an all-out strike across all Northern Ireland schools?

This has not been ruled out, but there are no proposals currently for such an all-out one-day strike. The NASUWT will want to consider carefully the response from the employers and the Minister.

Is the NASUWT campaigning with other unions?

The NASUWT remains committed to working closely with other public sector unions, including other teacher unions, to protect the interests of teachers, principals and other public service workers.

What is being done to engage the public and make them aware of what has happened to teachers?

The NASUWT is committed to ensuring that parents and the public are kept informed about the issues and concerns affecting teachers. We have sought to minimise the impact of strike days on individual families through our plans for rolling strikes.

Further information will be made available for parents and the public as we seek to maximise their support for our campaign on teachers’ pay.
 

Won’t taking strike action remove any goodwill we have with parents?

NASUWT members have been taking pupil, parent and public friendly industrial action over a number of years, to protest against adverse changes to pay, pensions and working conditions and on job loss. This action has not disrupted children’s education and has in fact supported teachers in raising standards.

The plan for strike action is a last resort because of the refusal of Employers and the Education Minister to engage in genuine dialogue with the NASUWT and is the result of the contemptuous offer of 0% for teachers’ pay for 2015-16. The NASUWT has put to the Employers and to the Minister two very reasonable demands which, if met, would avoid the need for strike action.

The responsibility for forcing teachers to escalate action rests with the Minister and the Employers and we will be making clear to parents that we regret any disruption but the responsibility lies with the Minister and employers.