Support staff in strike ballot as axe hovers over pay body

1st October 2010 at 01:00
Unions rail at 'slap in the face', but Government refuses to confirm abolition leak

Tens of thousands of school support staff could go on strike after a leaked document revealed Government plans to axe the profession's national pay body.

Unison, the leading support staff union, is calling on other groups of workers to join its ballot for industrial action after a list of quangos to be closed down was found to include the school support staff negotiating body (SSSNB).

It is also angry that a payment pledge of #163;250 to low-paid public sector workers, made by chancellor George Osborne, may not be honoured.

Senior figures at Unison, which represents 200,000 teaching assistants and other staff, are urging the Unite and GMB unions to ballot members for industrial action.

Unions are particularly bitter over the suspension of the negotiating body, having fought hard for several years to set it up. It was designed to create a national pay framework similar to that used to set teachers' pay, instead of local deals currently in place.

But a note from Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, which accompanied the quango list, said support staff are "not best served by such a national approach to pay and reward negotiation".

Christina McAnea, head of education at Unison, said the union will hold an indicative ballot this autumn, asking members what action they will be prepared to take over the issue.

It has also asked for an urgent meeting with the Department for Education and called on Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, to seek answers at "the highest level".

Ms McAnea said: "This displays the utter contempt this coalition Government has for low-paid workers, trade unions and in particular for the staff in schools delivering essential education services."

Brian Strutton, national secretary of the GMB, said that it was too early to be considering balloting over industrial action, but it would be "sounding out" members on the issue. He said he was waiting for the decision to be officially confirmed, and would then seek to "dissuade" the Government from doing so.

The DfE has said ministers are still "considering the future policy for determining school support staff pay and conditions of employment". It would not confirm the SSSNB was being abolished.

Unions are also angry that support staff may lose out on a #163;250 annual pay rise promised to public sector workers earning under #163;21,000.

The local government employers, which will make the final decision on the payment, were this week unable to confirm if local government workers would get the money. It will not consult local authorities on their financial "priorities" until after the comprehensive spending review, it said.

Unions said non-payment would be a "slap in the face" for school support staff, who also failed to secure a pay rise this year.


Quango cull

Government plans to axe a number of education quangos - Becta, the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency - have already been announced.

According to a list leaked to the BBC, ministers are also committed to closing advisory groups on teen pregnancy and sexual health.

It is also said to be considering shutting down the Young People's Learning Agency, the National College for Leadership of Schools and the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

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