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Free-school teachers win talks in dispute over 'zero-hours' contract

A strike planned for today over a disputed "zero-hours" contract for teachers at a free school has been called off after the management team agreed to talks.

Staff at the STEM Academy Tech City in Islington, north London, had voted for a series of strikes in what would have been the first walkout at a free school.

Members of the NUT at the school asked to be balloted after the school warned of "legal consequences" should staff not agree to new contracts before the Christmas break.

Objections were raised to a paragraph in the contracts that union leaders said equated to a zero-hours deal.

The contract stated: “The school reserves the right to temporarily lay you off from work without normal contractual pay or to reduce your normal working hours and reduce your pay proportionately. The school will give you as much notice as it can reasonably give of its need to take such action.”

Initally, leaders at STEM Academy declined to sit down and discuss the contracts with the union, a move that Bob Stapley, London general secretary of the NUT, said "served to illustrate some of the very significant concerns that teachers have about the government’s free-schools project".

However, a spokesman for the school confirmed yesterday that this decision had been reversed and that the issue of the contract would now be discussed.

John O’Shea, principal of STEM Academy, said he was "delighted" that the strike action had been suspended.

"The governing body will now continue the ongoing consultation process with staff, over a number of contractual issues that have been raised," he said. "I am very optimistic, based on conversations with staff, that we will reach a successful conclusion to this process in due course."

Mr Stapley welcomed STEM Academy's decision to recognise the union, but said he would not rule out future strike action. "We do hope that we can make progress next week that would enable us to resolve the dispute and call off other planned days of action," he added.

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