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T1. Mr Mullan asked the Minister of Education for an update on any discussions that he has had with the teachers’ unions about pay concerns, especially with the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), which plans to hold a one-day strike next month. (AQT 476/16-21)
I appeal to people to show restraint and to not be involved directly in a strike. We are in a position, as indicated, and discussions have been ongoing for the last year or two. Do not forget that we are talking about an issue with the 2015-16 pay settlement in particular, which was never sorted out during 2015-16. There were various offers made, I understand, from management side to the unions, which were not accepted at various stages, and those negotiations broke down.
I think there is a willingness to have discussion on it, but the reality is that there is not any more money. We are in a situation where, as I said, over 2015-16 and 2016-17 teachers received an increase in the pay bill of 2·61%. We have to take increments into account. That means that, for 2015-16, every teacher in Northern Ireland who had a salary below £37,500 saw a pay increase last year. So, we have to deal with this through some objective facts. There is a tough financial regime out there for schools. While I am sure there is a strong desire to see additional pay, the reality is that the more we push up pay, the more current circumstances in the schools' budget will lead to further redundancies. I think there also has to be a balance struck between greater levels of pay and teachers losing their job. That will also have to be borne in mind. I do not have any additional money to throw at this issue.
With respect, they are not lagging two years behind; that is an inaccuracy. It is also the case that every teacher below the top level received an increment for 2015-16 and will receive an increment and pay increase for 2016-17. In England, automatic pay increments were abolished a number of years ago, so, in that sense, it is not like for like. If people want to have like for like, there will be consequences of that as well. I think we have to get to the facts of the situation rather than always looking to see where there is parity when it suits and ignoring other occasions when it does not suit.