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One-year warning shot

The two biggest unions clashed over handling unruly pupils at their Easter conferences. Clare Dean opens a three-page report

The second biggest teaching union this week delivered its deal to the new government - social partnership with a sting in its tail.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers gave a warning that it would give the new government a year to "do something decent for teachers". It said excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork could be resolved at nil cost to the taxpayer, but at enormous benefit to teachers and pupils.

The union declared itself eager to enter constructive dialogue with the new government, but said it would continue to work to secure fair rights for employees at work.

The union's national executive has been authorised to take whatever measures are necessary to resolve workload problems if discussions with the new government prove fruitless.

General secretary Nigel de Gruchy has already warned of the prospect of further workload boycotts if there is no satisfaction after the first year of the new government.

The conference condemned both the Conservatives and Labour for their stances on teachers' pay - the Tories for not funding fully this year's award and for phasing it and Labour for supporting such a move. And the NASUWT attacked the "hypocrisy" of the Government in giving the senior salaries review body a free hand on MPs' pay while keeping a tight rein on that for teachers and other groups.

"Is it because they see us as mugs because we have a vocation?" asked Tony Hardman, from the union's national executive. "I am very proud of my profession. I think teaching is an honourable profession but sometimes it is hard to justify when you see the way you are treated. This Government thinks so much about teachers it withholds half your pay, it works you into the ground and then won't let you leave with dignity when you have given your all. "

The union has committed itself to social partnership, although many delegates at Bournemouth were left searching for a definition. Barbara Jones, from Huddersfield, said: "To you it probably means something quite different to what it means to me or the person sitting next to you." She said it could include agreement on wage restructuring, productivity and the right to strike and asked "Should teachers be sacrificed on the altar of social contract?" But the union's national executive was determined it should appear in the motion on salaries, conditions of service and workload agreed by the conference. It put up a strong fight with Mick Carney, national treasurer, pointing to a deal offered in Ireland which saw plans to cut the top rate of tax dropped after consultation with the unions, whose priorities were education and health.

"Social partnership is the means by which that consensus we once knew can be re-established," he said. "This is our responsibility, our future, our manifesto for the millennium."

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