By Tom Barker, Ash Field Academy striker and Socialist Alternative member (personal capacity)
Support workers represented by UNISON at Ash Field Academy, a special educational needs (SEND) school in Leicester, are in dispute after rejecting a below-inflation pay offer. We have taken five days of industrial action since May 14 and are planning escalating action if no significant improvements to the offer are made.
Ash Field staff are caring and diligent. None of us want to be on strike, but because of a combination of factors – some endemic to the education sector and some unique to this workplace – we have been forced to take action.
Why are Ash Field workers taking action?
Academies do not have to adhere to Local Authority (LA) contracts for support staff. At Ash Field, support staff have lost out because the Academy has failed to consistently apply government pay awards negotiated through the National Joint Council.
Ash Field was also cut off from changes to terms and conditions in council-run schools. When the school was academised in 2012, support workers in Leicester were all on the same pay scales. However shortly after, Leicester City Council introduced a series of enhanced pay scales for support workers in SEND settings. This was not adopted by Ash Field, meaning that its support workers have been paid significantly less than those doing comparable jobs in LA maintained schools.
“Fair pay so we can stay”
After consultation, it was agreed that members should pursue a pay claim directly with the employer. The agreed claim had three components: a £3,000 pay increase to close the gap with LA maintained SEND schools, the introduction of pay scales so that pay is aligned with those in comparable education settings, and pay supplements for those who take on additional medical responsibilities.
Uncompetitive pay and growing workloads, combined with the cost of living are driving recruitment and retention problems. “Fair pay so we can stay” has been one of the most popular chants on the picket lines, where more than 70 UNISON members (the majority of the members) have turned out!
Our union could be mobilising disputes like this across the UK, but only with a fighting, left leadership. This is why I stood in the NEC elections as a member of Socialist Alternative and the Time for Real Change campaign.
Can you show your support to strengthen our strike? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with solidarity messages.