By Maria Nicol TEACHING ASSISTANTS employed by Durham County Council have voted overwhelmingly for strike action against the imposition of new contracts that would see some workers lose up to 23 per cent – or £6,000 a year.
The Labour led Council in Durham voted in May to dismiss all of the 2,700 teaching assistants employed by the Council and to impose new term-time only contracts with increased hours per week.
But the TAs, organised by Unison and the ATL, resisted and organised. A strike ballot in October returned a 93% vote for strike action, due on the 8th and 9th November. They will join TAs in Derby, who taken five days of action since June.
This is significant action by a predominantly women workforce – indeed, across the country, around 97 per cent of teaching assistants are women.
Cuts to local government and the public sector have disproportionately affected women, who have to juggle working with caring obligations and so are more likely to work in these jobs which provide flexible working patterns or follow school hours.
But under the Tory governments, local councils have faced devastating cuts, which have led to secure jobs being replaced with insecure, part time work on zero hours contracts in the private sector. Around 80 per cent of workers in the low paid care sector are women and women are significantly overrepresented in low paid and temporary contracts.
Britain remains a country where workplace inequality between men and women remains the norm. Public sector cuts have increased this inequality. The sight of a Labour council using the threat of equal pay claims to drive down TAs pay and conditions is appalling, but not uncommon.
It’s good that Unison are taking a firm stand in this struggle and fighting for TAs to have their pay negotiated nationally and defend 52 week contracts. Trade unions have been in the forefront of fighting for workplace equality but members need to insist that union leaders use their union’s influence to bring Labour local government policy into line.
Women in Iceland have escalated their fight against the exploitation of women in the workforce. In late October, women across the country walked off the job at 14:38 the time at which the gender pay gap means women stop being paid for the same work done by their colleagues.
In Iceland there is a 14 per cent pay gap (18 per cent in the UK) – so women walked out of work 14 per cent early. This isn’t the first time they have done this – in 2005 they left work at 14:08. That’s a pitiful improvement of just half an hour in eleven years.
The pay gap is increasingly gaining prominence as an issue to challenge, but a large part of the narrowing has taken place not because women are being paid more, but because of an overall fall in men’s wages. We need to see an equalling of wages where women’s pay is levelled up and workers’ overall pay is increasing.
Hand in hand with workplace and social inequality goes endemic sexual harrassment and violence against women. The horrific murder-kidnapping in which a 16 year old woman was drugged, raped and tortured in Argentina, sparked mass protests on 19th October from women across the country. In the 18 days before the protests, 19 women had been murdered – victims of so-called ‘honour killings’.
Women across Latin America termed the day Black Wednesday and took to the streets after organising mass demonstrations on the internet. These protests are a repeat of those in 2015, when 300,000 gathered in Buenos Aires to protest the murder of women and girls.