UNISON is accusing Derby City Council of inflaming tensions and escalating a dispute with school support staff who have seen their pay slashed by up to 25%.
The staff – who began their latest two-day strike yesterday (Thursday) – plan to distribute balloons and stickers to parents and children as part of their good-natured community campaign to raise awareness for their case against the council.
But Unison has now been threatened with police because the Labour-run council claims that doing so would conflict with its ‘safeguarding’ policies towards pupils. The support staff, most of whom are teaching assistants, have been in dispute with their employer since last September when the council announced plans to put many of them on term-time contracts. Others have seen a reduction in their weekly hours. Some employees are losing as much as £6,000 a year.
Yesterday, teaching assistants were out in force on the streets of the city’s Derwent ward where deputy leader of the council, Martin Rawson, has his seat. Tomorrow striking staff will target the Chaddesden ward. This is the seat of Sara Bolton, the councillor responsible for safeguarding children and young people, who has threatened them with the police.
Sara Bolton has written to Unison warning that the council may call the police if balloons and stickers, bearing the name of the union, are handed out. More than a third of 71 schools could remain closed as a result of the strikes.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘Derby City Council is pointlessly escalating this dispute by involving the police. It is a ridiculous notion that these dedicated members of staff who work with children day-in, day-out, are now somehow putting them at risk by simply handing out stickers. The police undoubtedly have more pressing matters to deal with.
‘It’s a struggle to understand why a Labour council is hitting its lowest-paid workers in such a mean-spirited way. The government is making life tough for local authorities, but the council doesn’t have to hit the lowest-paid workers on its payroll in such a callous manner.
‘School support staff, whose family budgets are already stretched to the limit, have already shown they have the support of the public and local businesses. It is time the council stopped behaving in such a harsh and uncaring way, and backed down.
‘Door-to-door canvassing in the ward of council leader Ranjit Banwait during last week’s one-day strike resulted in 700 letters from the public backing the teaching assistants being sent to the council. Similar levels of support are expected during the latest strike action.’