“No money to pay our teachers but we have the warmest chicken sheds anywhere”: Support for Mid Ulster teachers as strike action hits local schools

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Thousands of pupils across the Mid Ulster district have had classes cancelled today (Wednesday) as the Irish National Teacher’s Organisation staged a half-day strike over pay.

Morning classes were cancelled for pupils from junior classes at St Patrick’s Academy Dungannon, although the school stayed open for senior pupils.

St Ciaran’s College in Ballygawley and Holy Trinity College in Cookstown were also hit by the strike action, as well as Dean Maguirc in Carrickmore.

Local schools unaffected by today’s walkout are likely to be hit by fresh industrial action planned for January 31 by the NASUWT, who have announced a rolling strike action in schools across Mid Ulster, Fermanagh and Omagh, Derry City and Strabane.

Some parents took to social media to vent their annoyance at having to look after their children during the strike action, and also provide transport to school when the strike ends at 12.30pm.

However, other parents pledged their support for the striking teachers, drawing comparisons with the RHI scandal currently engulfing Northern Ireland politics.

One father, who said his daughter was enjoying ‘the extra time in bed’, posted the following message on social media.

“No money to pay our teachers the wage that they deserve but we have the warmest chicken sheds to be found anywhere. Enough is enough, the DUP must be held to account for this and all the other scandals they have been involved in. Solidarity with all those that have been forced into industrial action.”

Another parent supporting the campaign had their daughter draw a picture of money going up the chimney, and posted the following comment: “The DUP seemingly have money to burn, so teachers should receive fair pay for the amazing work they do.”

Another social media user posted: “Solidarity to the teachers taking strike action today. Victory to the teachers.”

The 7,000-strong INTO union staged pickets at school gates across Mid Ulster as they stepped up their campaign for a pay rise for 2015-2016 and a “fair wage”.

In the run-up to Christmas its 7,000 members were balloted with an overwhelming majority voting in favour of strike action over the ongoing pay dispute – 78 per cent of members in the ballot turnout voted for strike action with 94.97 per cent voting in favour of action short of strike.

Gerry Murphy, Northern Secretary of the INTO, said: “The half day strike will be going ahead as planned with one major rally in Belfast. We are asking teachers, who are striking in the Belfast area, to come along to the Student’s Union between 10am and 11am. Teachers will be unavailable for work until 12.30pm.

“The INTO has 7,000 members in schools in Northern Ireland across all sectors and age groups. We are confident our members will be supporting this action.

“The ballot, and the strike action, shows the strength of feeling among teachers who want a reasonable pay deal, feel undervalued and who are trying their best, every day, to deliver the best education they can for the children of Northern Ireland.

“We have consistently made it clear that we have been available for further talks with the Minister for Education and the Employing Authorities.

“However, in spite of our ongoing efforts, teachers have yet again been snubbed by the Government and it’s time those in power on the hill start listening to the people of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Murphy added that INTO members are not required to and should refuse to perform any duties whatsoever until 12.30pm on January 18.