Union and council pledge to continue talks over deal for teaching assistants

Teaching assistants demonstrating outside County Hall in Durham.
Teaching assistants demonstrating outside County Hall in Durham.

The union which is fighting the corner of teaching assistants has said it is ready to return to the negotiating table after members rejected the latest deal.

Unison, which represents 1,700 of the 2,100 workers who fill the role with Durham County Council, has said the “majority” of its members have rejected the offer from council chiefs.

County Hall, the headquarters of Durham County Council.

County Hall, the headquarters of Durham County Council.

The dispute has been ongoing since 2015, when the council said it planned to cut the pay of most of the assistants by paying them only for the hours and weeks they were contracted to in an effort to avoid legal challenges from other staff.

They have held a series of strikes and the council has agreed to review their roles duties and introduce a new grading structure.

Last month, the authority agreed to a series of actions, including withdrawing the current suspended notices of dismissal and re-engagement, which was issued last October, and to implement a standard working week for teaching assistants of 37 hours, with any reduced hours contracts being paid on a pro rata basis.

It also says it will compensate teaching assistants for any financial loss equivalent to the loss of salary associated with the move from whole time to term time, or a change in grade, paid during the term of employment for a maximum of two years from the date of the implementation, September 1 this year.

We will continue to work with the recognised trade unions to consider next steps and how we move forward.

John Hewitt

At that stage, the council said Unison, alongside Unite the union, had agreed to carry out a ballot with their members.

It said the previous agreement reached with GMB remained in place and the terms of this revised offer would apply.

Now Unison has confirmed its members have rejected the package.

Claire Wiliams, the union’s regional secretary for the northern region, said: “The revised and improved offer was put to Unison as part of the democratic process and it was important we asked the teaching assistants themselves what they thought of it.

“The vast majority voted to reject the offer.

“We have informed the council and we are now seeking to get back around the table and open negotiations with them.”

John Hewitt, the council’s corporate director for resources, said: “We recognise the result of the Unison ballot.

“We will continue to work with the recognised trade unions to consider next steps and how we move forward.”