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Strikes could close all States secondary schools in coming weeks

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ALL States secondary schools could close later this month, with teaching unions blaming the States Employment Board for a further wave of strikes by back-tracking on revised pay offers during negotiations.

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Yesterday the Jersey branch of the National Education Union announced that its members would be joining their NASUWT colleagues in strike action on 26 February, a move which is likely to lead to the closure of a number of schools.

The NEU has said that Haute Vallée, Hautlieu, Jersey College for Girls, Grainville, Les Quennevais, Le Rocquier and Victoria College have all been targeted for strike action, with 200 of its members set to walk out of their jobs for the day.

The union has warned that other schools are being lined up for strike action a fortnight afterwards if a settlement is not reached with the board.

The decision of the two teaching unions follows strike action by civil servants, including teaching assistants, on two occasions, forcing the temporary closure of most States primary schools and nurseries in December and January.

Large sections of the public sector, including teachers, civil servants and nurses, are dissatisfied with their most recent pay deals after receiving below-inflation pay rises for 2018 and 2019.

Union representatives are currently engaged in a mediation process with the States Employment Board.

Brendan Carolan, president of the NEU’s Jersey branch, said that the decision to strike came after an improved pay offer was made to teachers, who have been awarded a 2% rise for both years, and then withdrawn a week later.

‘On 4 February we felt we had an offer which was moving in the right direction. It was reasonable but it still wasn’t enough,’ he said.

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‘And then on this Monday, the 11th, the offer got worse – it deteriorated in a week. I can only surmise that the SEB was involved – they looked at what had been negotiated by their officials and decided it was too much.

‘So, when we do have a strike on the 26th let’s put the blame squarely where it lies, and that is with the SEB probably not realising the extent to which members of the teaching profession feel totally disrespected.

‘Over 2018 and 2019 the average inflation for the two years is 7.53% and we have been offered 4.04%. That’s a 3.5% cut in real pay.’

Mr Carolan added that the Island was starting to experience staff shortages in key subjects such as science and maths because packages had become less attractive for teachers.

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‘The future Island Plan unveiled at the end of last year did prioritise children and education and did promise to make Jersey the “best place to bring up children in the world”,’ he said.

‘How can such grand objectives align with chronic underinvestment? Our Mercedes-Benz of an education service is fast becoming a Renault Clio with a dink in its side that needs a service to be roadworthy.’

NEU regional secretary Andy Woolley, who visited Jersey to speak at the public sector pay march and rally last Saturday, said: ‘We felt that the position went backwards from the previous week, when we had some hope that we could reach an acceptable settlement.

‘Now we are about as far away from this as ever and NEU negotiators cannot recommend what is on offer to our members.’

He added: ‘We believe that the schools involved are likely to be closed or operating on a vastly reduced basis.

‘After that, it is likely that the next step would be to call out a fortnight later the other schools not striking on this first occasion.’

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
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