Since February, close to 16,000 teachers across Northern Ireland have been involved in a campaign of industrial action against cuts to education and pensions. As a result of the failure of the Minister for Education John O’Dowd to cease cuts to schools budgets and the Assembly Executive’s implementation of cuts to pensions, members of the three teaching unions – the UTU, INTO and NASUWT – have doggedly escalated a campaign of work-to-rule.
From strictly working teaching hours only, withdrawing the passing on of data to the Department of Education and other bodies and non-co-operation with outside bodies, the action has so far succeeded in choking off supply of important data. Co-operation with inspectors has also ceased. The amount of extra non-contractual work teachers have been relied on to do has truly been revealed, forcing the Minister to seek meaningless talks in order to cut across the action.
There is overwhelming opposition amongst teachers and union reps to entering into a new round of talks that lack any substance. However, there is a danger that the leaderships of the unions could buckle under political pressure from O’Dowd. Disgracefully, O’Dowd has threatened to cut wages of teachers involved in the action. Teachers are currently involved in lobbying union leaders to demand no vacillation on the action and to fight the Minister’s threats. The teaching unions also need to link up their fight against cuts with workers throughout the public sector and campaign now for a one-day public sector strike in the Autumn.