Members of the NASUWT in Northern Ireland passed a series of agenda-setting motions at their annual conference near Belfast.
Vital issues including pay, sexual harrassment, pensions, Budgets, fair employment, mental health and class sizes were all discussed at the unions biggest-ever Northern Ireland Conference.
The union also played host to a debate with representatives from the main political parties in Northern Ireland looking at devolution, the lack of an Assembly in Northern Ireland and concerns over the impacts of Brexit on public services, the wider economy and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
NASUWT Northern Ireland President David Baxter gave a powerful speech on the issues facing the profession, warning that teachers were "being pushed to the limit" and NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates praised members for their strength and courage. And the Mayor of Lisburn and Castlereagh, Uel Mackin gave a moving and personal address during which he told how a teacher's support and encouragement had helped change his life after he suffered years of difficulties in primary school with a speech impediment.
Appalling pay levels slammed
Members said they were “appalled” at pay levels for teachers and lecturers in Northern Ireland.
A motion highlighting the woeful pay awards for teachers and the fact that college lecturers have not had a pay increase since 2014 was passed unanimously.
Teachers have suffered year-on-year cuts to their pay and since 2011 they have only received 1% in 2014 and 1% in 2016.
The motion highlighted the fact that an experienced lecturer in college now earns £1,000 a year less than an equivalent teacher.
It calls on the Department of Education and the Department for the Economy to “adequately and fairly reward lecturers for the work they do”.
Proposing the motion, National Executive Member Eamon McDowell said the NASUWT was currently in negotiations with officials from the Department of Education on a pay deal for teachers.
He told delegates: “But here is the key, a pay deal is only a pay deal when it is commensurate with our working hours. We cannot and we will not go back to the way it was before our action short of strike action started.”
Call to make upskirting an offence
Members passed a motion calling for changes to sexual offences legislation meaning that the unsolicited taking of intimate pictures of women and girls - known as upskirting and downblousing - be made an offence in the criminal law. Such a change would bring Northern Ireland into line with legislation in England and Scotland.
Last month a pupil who took covert upskirt photos of two NASUWT members in 2015 and 2016 at Enniskillen Royal Grammar School in Fermanagh was convicted of committing an act of a lewd, obscene and disgusting nature and outraging public decency.
The NASUWT pressed for the Public Prosecution Service to take action against the pupil and has been representing and supporting the members involved since the incidents came to light.
The call for the change in the law will come in a motion highlighting the increasing incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace and particularly schools. NASUWT research points to women and girls increasingly experiencing sexist abuse and harassment including upskirting and downblousing.
Speaking to the motion on sexual harassment of women and girls National Executive Member Susan Parlour told the conference:
"The NASUWT recognises the devastating impact sexual harrassment can have on teachers and pupils alike. It is an issue that we as a union are wholly and completely committed to eradicating within the workplace and in our schools."
Fair employment for all teachers call
Delegates called for changes to equalities law in Northern Ireland to ensure no teacher can be discriminated when applying for jobs regardless of their religion.
A motion passed at the conference demanded a change to the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1988 to remove the exemption regarding the employment of teachers in schools.
The current law allows for an exemption in relation to equality of opportunity and fair participation in employment for members of the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities in Northern Ireland.
The practical effect of this is that it is not currently unlawful to discriminate against someone in an appointment process on the basis of their religious belief.