Michael Gove has been accused of “provocation” by the NUT and NASUWT unions, who have threatened to hold a national strike within three months should their talks with the education secretary fail to yield concessions.
Last month, the unions announced they were suspending their strike planned for November, pending talks with Mr Gove, despite concerns by some members on the Left of the NUT executive that this would be seen as a “sign of weakness”.
If some in the union movement were optimistic that a resolution to the dispute over teachers’ pay, pensions and working conditions could be on the cards, their hopes may well have been dashed by Mr Gove’s letter last week, in which he stressed that the talks would only address “the implementation of policy, given that the direction of policy on pay and pensions is fixed following full consultation”.
As if to rub salt into the wound, he then insisted that the non-striking unions – the ATL, NAHT, ASCL and Voice - and even self-proclaimed union alternative Edapt should also be allowed to attend any meetings, so that “striking unions do not have any unfair advantage over other organisations which have not taken strike action”.
The NUT and NASUWT responded this afternoon, explaining how they were “disappointed that the secretary of state, rather than seeking genuinely to engage in talks to seek to resolve our disputes has… resorted to provocation”.
The unions issued a fresh appeal for Mr Gove to acknowledge the “importance of committing to genuine talks to seek resolution of the trade disputes”.
Ominously, the unions have also reminded Mr Gove that plans for a national strike “no later than 13 February 2014” remain in place “in the event of insufficient progress through negotiation”.
Given the prickly relationship between the unions and the Department for Education, NUT and NASUWT members would be well advised to plan for losing another’s day pay in the new year.