Teachers in Northern Ireland threaten strike action

October 4, 2004

Teachers at a Northern Ireland college are to take strike action over the treatment of a colleague cleared of sexual assault. Fifty-four members of the NASUWT at Laurelhill Community College in County Antrim plan to strike from 7 October to highlight what they say is “gross mismanagement” of the situation. Senior union officials have been meeting the employers at the school on Monday to try to work out a solution. The row centres on a male teacher at the college who was accused of sexual assault, suspended for two years, but subsequently cleared by a court. However, Chris Keates, acting general secretary of NASUWT, said there were continuing concerns about the conditions of his return to school. She said the union had been campaigning nationally to get better protection of teachers falsely accused by pupils, but this was one of the worst cases it had come across. “In my view, based on the facts of the case, by anyone’s standards this is an unacceptable state of affairs,” she said. “NASUWT believes this to be one of the worst cases of gross mismanagement of a false allegation the union has encountered.” She said that until the matter was resolved in a satisfactory manner, the union’s members at Laurelhill College would engage in a continuous strike. “NASUWT will be drawing this situation to the attention of the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Barry Gardiner. “In addition, we will use this case in the productive discussions in which NASUWT is currently engaged with the Westminster Government to identify strategies to protect teachers from false allegations.” A spokesman for Laurelhill Community College said the board of governors and management were currently involved in negotiations with the union, aimed at averting strike action. He said the board of governors was convinced that the situation could be resolved in a way which addressed the concerns of teaching staff but did not victimise pupils at the school. “We have repeatedly offered unconditional mediation with union representatives but unfortunately these offers have been refused to date,” he said. “We believe unconditional talks are the only way to avoid confrontation and disruption. Our offers in this regard remain on the table. “We genuinely hope reason prevails and that NASUWT representatives join us to find an agreed way forward.” Bill Watson, chairman of the board of governors, said the union should call off the planned action for the sake of the pupils. “Our main concern is the education of these 970 pupils in the school,” he said. “We believe that the interests of these pupils are primary and our first concern is a duty of care to every pupil in that school.”

BBC News

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