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Editor's comment

To suggest that the thousands of teachers stranded abroad will be outraged at the docking of their pay is an understatement (p1). Indeed, all teachers will share that sentiment. Through no fault of their own, they have been caught up in an unprecedented and unforeseen set of circumstances that prevented them - and many of their pupils - from turning up at school for the start of the new term. Perhaps the temptation of saving money was too salivating a prospect for council treasurers, particularly this month when the teachers' salary bill will shoot up as a result of the final increase from their three-year pay deal.

We know what the lawyers tell us - that an employer is entitled to withhold pay in response to an unauthorised absence, treating it as unpaid leave. But we also know that the lawyers frequently point to the test of "reasonableness" as a central tenet of the law. On this test, some councils have failed lamentably. Teachers and other school staff will have striven might and main to return from their holidays, seen their costs soar and probably experienced stress levels heading in the same direction. Any "reasonable" employer would have responded proportionately, instead of heavy-handedly invoking its rights.

Employers' handling of this situation appears to have shut the door on national negotiation, bizarrely when a deal was on offer from the main union under which it would have agreed to relax some teachers' terms and conditions as an alternative to docking pay (the so-called "swine flu" option). Just as importantly, the actions of a few councils will have poisoned the well of good industrial relations at the very time when harmonious working is required to help both sides cope with the pressures of the recession on school budgets. Surely there is still time for common sense to prevail in negotiating a way forward at local level.

Neil Munro, editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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