Ash Field UNISON members are entering their fifth week of strike action at a special educational needs school in Leicester. The strike remains as solid as ever, with over 50 out on the picket line this week. These workers are predominantly low-paid, mostly women and from diverse backgrounds. Although striking has been difficult for these workers, they have been forced into taking action by academy management after years of being underpaid and taken for granted.
Poverty pay and growing workloads, combined with the cost of living crisis have created a crisis in recruitment and retention. This is exactly why “fair pay so we can stay” has become one of the most popular chants on the picket lines.
The academy can afford a pay rise
Since academisation in 2012, Ash Field workers’ pay has fallen behind their council colleagues. This has meant that they have been underpaid for almost a decade. Quite correctly, the union submitted a claim for parity with their council counterparts, and a pay rise on all grades to keep with the rate of inflation last year.
The school has been forced every step of the way to the negotiating table despite having financial reserves of around £2.7 million. These are the largest reserves of any academy in Leicester, yet they still claim they “cannot afford” to give their support workers a real, above-inflation pay rise! It only came as an insult to the staff when the school’s Principal was awarded £18,000 in benefits last year – something the school has yet to explain – taking her pay and benefits to more than £110,000!
Ramp up the pressure!
It has only been through strike action that the school has been forced to back down on one element of the pay claim, namely parity with other council schools backdated to 2022-2023. This was only conceded on the eve of the first strike back in May. However, the union members remain adamant that they also need a cost of living pay rise and are continuing the strike until the school recognises the true value of these staff, and give them the chance to maintain living standards during this horrendous cost of living crisis.
The strike has remained solid, and continues to get huge support from within the school, from parents, the wider community and supporters all over the country, including the local MP Claudia Webbe. Across the union, Ash Field has been a key reference point for workers looking to find a way to strike back. Andrea Egan, former UNISON President and current NEC member (personal capacity) said while attending the picket line today:
“How can these workers go into school, supporting vulnerable young people and then not being able to go home and manage their own household budget? It’s an absolute crime in this day and age. Solidarity to the workers. They’ve got to keep going at it. We can’t back down now. Workers have to carry on until they get something that satisfies them. If you don’t fight, you’ll get nothing.”
However, it has now entered perhaps the most critical phase. The school has refused to concede anything more than an offer of an unconsolidated £500 across the board. This has been rejected out of hand. Union members have voted for further escalation of the action up to the Summer holidays, with four days of continuous action in the first week of July, followed by a solid week before the end of term.
A victory for these staff will be a victory for all education workers, especially support staff. Messages of support and pressure on the school’s management remain critical. Please send the following messages:
Messages of solidarity to Leicester City UNISON branch – photos and videos welcome!
Email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Messages of protest to School Governors – tell them to pay up now!
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Message the Strategic Director for Social Care and Education at Leicester City Council, Martin Samuels for action to meet these workers demands
Pass the following motion of support in your trade union branch