UNISON members at The Victoria Education Centre in Poole are taking strike action today, after their employer failed to deliver a pay rise for staff.
The special education school is run by disability charity Livability, but it has not made a pay offer that addresses historic low wages by comparison to other school settings across Dorset and nationally.
A membership recruitment campaign began in 2021 and saw a recognition agreement signed with the employer in March 2022.
Regional organiser Mike Cracknell said: “The strength of feeling was so high that a formal industrial action ballot generated a whopping 81% response rate, of which 97% showed their anger and voted in favour of taking action.
“Members strive daily to create a nurturing and inclusive environment for children with dedicated and skilled support staff as the backbone of the school community, working tirelessly to ensure that every child receives the support they need to thrive.”
School support staff salaries have not kept pace with the rising cost of living, leaving many staff struggling to make ends meet. It is nearly two years since some staff received a pay increase.
This financial strain is driving staff away, as they seek better opportunities elsewhere.
Senior teaching assistant and UNISON workplace representative Rhian Rothery said: “We have been paid low in comparison to local schools for a very long time.
“After a lot of time and effort over the last year and a half, trying to reach an agreement without success, our members felt the next step was to strike. We love our job and that is why we are here – strike is the last thing we want to do but we deserve fair pay.
“We would all much prefer to be doing what we love, caring for and supporting our students.”