TEACHING assistants in County Durham have voted to end a two-year dispute over their pay and contracts. 

The bitter row over the contracts of more than 2,100 school workers has been ongoing since 2015, when Durham County Council proposed to make changes aimed at reducing its risk of equal pay claims. 

This is the third time members of the trade union Unison, which represents the majority of teaching assistants in the county, has voted on offers approved by councillors. 

It means a new grading structure will be introduced from January 2018 and a career progression board established, which will look at reducing pay cuts for almost 500 members of staff set to lose out. 

Northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “This is a great result for Durham teaching assistants. The deal that they have voted to accept means the majority of them will not be worried about pay cuts. It also provides a clear way forward for all teaching assistants regardless of individual regrading.

“This is a significant step forward and means the majority of teaching assistants have been regraded. For those who have not, the setting up of the progression board gives a clear written commitment from the council to work with Unison to find solutions for all.

“This dispute has lasted far too long, and caused too much pain, stress and concern for teaching assistants – and everyone who cares about local schools.”

“Unison, as the union representing the vast majority of Durham teaching assistants, has spent many months negotiating with the council. I’m glad that at long last we have been able to find a way of moving forward together.

“Now the council needs to make good on their commitments to all Durham teaching assistants, and work with us to ensure this deal is implemented quickly and in full.”

The offer came following new negotiations, which were reopened following strikes last year. 

Councillor Jane Brown, cabinet member for human resources, said: “We are pleased to have found a resolution to this long-running and complex matter which is fair to our entire workforce and which reflects the value that teaching assistants (TAs) add to our education system.

“We are now ready to proceed with the career progression board and look forward to working closely with head teachers, TAs and the recognised trade unions on developing further opportunities for the workforce.”

“I would like to thank all those involved across the council, the recognised trade unions and our schools for their commitment in helping us get to this point.”

A statement by the activists’ committee, which has led the grassroots campaign for a better deal, said: “We have fought a long and hard battle, not only against Durham County Council, but the Labour councillors who voted to impose life changing pay cuts by sacking us then implementing new contracts. 

“Through our refusal to accept the initial derisive offer and the council`s claims that there were no alternatives, we have formed a strong support network. Our campaign is built upon this strength, we remain committed to support each other, ensuring nobody is ‘left behind’.”