DURHAM teaching assistants have suspended their strike to allow time for talks, union leaders have announced.

Three days strike action this week by Durham teaching assistants had been scheduled to start tomorrow, but have been called off to allow time for further talks aimed at settling the dispute, said Unison.

The union says it is keen for urgent progress to end the long-running dispute with the county council over the proposed move to term-time contracts.

But following the announcement last week that the council would be suspending its plans to dismiss and re-employ the teaching assistants on new contracts from January, Unison decided this was enough to suspend the strikes this week.

Unison regional secretary Clare Williams said: “It’s good news that Durham County Council is now willing to negotiate.

"Clearly the strong determination of teaching assistants to take action has brought the council to the negotiating table.

“Disputes can only ever be resolved by talking through the issues and problems. But hopefully now a way can be found to avoid school support staff having to suffer life-changing pay cuts.

“That’s why this week’s action has been called off. But if it looks like no progress is being made, there may well be more strikes in the new year.”

Durham County Council’s corporate director of resources, John Hewitt, said: "I am pleased to say that positive and productive talks are continuing and as a result Unison has called off industrial action by its teaching assistants planned for this week.  In return, to allow this to take place, we last week agreed to suspend the dismissal and re-engage process and undertake a review of the teaching assistants' role.

"We remain clear that an equal pay risk exists, and that needs to be addressed, but it is also important to properly examine aspects of the employment of teaching assistants which merit further review given some of the information which has come to light recently.  

"The review, which will look at function, job description and activities, to establish whether current job descriptions adequately describe the role, will be completed by 1 September 2017.  This will not however re-open the single status agreement currently in place.

"This is a very complex situation and it has also resulted in us having further discussions with other recognised trade unions.

“We look forward to working with these trade unions and are grateful for Unison's announcement today."