NASUWT members across Northern Ireland have been “keeping the country going” as they have risen to the challenge of keeping children safe and providing them with high-quality education during the Covid-19 pandemic.
NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said members were making the difference and were being supported and protected by the Union as they delivered the best for children and young people.
Speaking to members at the NASUWT Northern Ireland Annual Conference, Dr Roach also praised those teachers who have stepped into activism this year to be the voice of the NASUWT, calling them the “beating heart of our Union.”
The conference, held online this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic saw motions debated on a wide range of issues affecting the teaching profession and education.
High on the agenda was workload, harassment, education reform, pay in further education and concerns over the General Teaching Council of Northern Ireland (GTCNI).
NASUWT Northern Ireland President Angela Wallace also addressed the Conference.
The Conference was held against the backdrop of widespread Covid-19 infection rates in Northern Ireland, which has seen teachers under incredible amounts of pressure, particularly as a result of the Executive’s chronic mismanagement of the pandemic.
In his keynote speech Dr Roach told members: “You have risen to the challenge. Keeping children safe. Providing education. It is you, our members, who are making the difference.
“Your success is to be measured by the obstacles you have overcome.
“The pandemic has demonstrated how it is our members who are keeping the country going.”
Through the work of NASUWT representatives and lay activists, the Union would continue to support and protect members so they can continue to deliver the best for our children and young people, he said.
He told activists: “You have been amazing. The beating heart of our Union. Answering questions from members – giving advice, reassurance and a voice for other members - your work is making a massive difference. There is no more important time to be a member and to be active in our Union.”
“Be Proud, Very Proud"Dr Roach went on: “Normal social life may have been disrupted but we remain together, stronger and more untied. You should also be proud of your collective efforts throughout this crisis.
“Throughout the past year, with your support, we have maintained our resolute focus on the safety of our members.”
Dr Roach outlined important protections secured by the NASUWT including:
An agreement that long term substitute teachers would not be treated differently from full-time staff and would continue to be paid for the period that they were engaged to work whenever schools had to close.
An income support scheme for substitute teachers that provided 80% pay for April to June and subsequent closures.
An agreement that PRSD would not be needed for pay progression in September 2020 and that teachers would not be required to undertake PRSD during 2020-21.
Securing exceptional dependent leave for parents who are unable to attend work due to their child being required to self-isolate for a period as a precaution against COVID-19.
The pausing of ETI inspections.
He added: “You can proud of your actions.
“Proud to have delivered measures to protect teachers’ health and safety.
“Proud of your efforts to protect the status and working conditions of members.
“Proud of your resolve to stand up for our members where schools and employing authorities refuse to deal with poor pupil behaviour and in demonstrating once again that the NASUWT is the only union prepared to use industrial action in order to protect our members from violence and assault at work.
“Proud to have delivered two pay increases for teachers in schools in the past twelve months in very difficult circumstances.
“You continued to push the employers and Department of Education for a pay and workload deal which could deliver real change for teachers.
“And, following many years of campaigning, and your determined pursuit of industrial action, it was your action and organising that secured an historic agreement on pay and workload which unlocked the pay freeze and delivered a 4.25% over the period 2017/18 to 2018/19.
“And, in addition, also securing an agreement to a series of reviews to tackle teacher workload.
“And, last month, I am proud that as a result of your efforts in an extremely difficult financial context, where no more than 1% was on the table, we were able to secure a 2% pay increase for teachers for 2019/20 and a further 2% for 2020/21.
“And, now in response to the intolerable situation facing our members in Further Education colleges, we will be taking a stand to address the erosion of FE pay and detrimental changes to the terms and conditions of members in FE colleges.
“The motion you will be debating today will send a clear message that we will not accept attempts to remove the Independent Appeal process from lecturers’ employment procedures as a precondition for a paltry pay award.”
In a powerful speech Dr Roach concluded: “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, and each one of us must play our part.
“Improving the working lives of our members
“Confronting discrimination, harassment and victimisation at work
“Standing up for justice in our workplaces and in our communities.
“Building and strengthening the NASUWT as the voice for all teachers.
“I am sure that we will emerge as strong, if not stronger, at the end of this pandemic than we were at the start.”