Strike looms as teachers reject below-inflation deal

TEACHERS COULD be on strike before Christmas if they cannot dissuade the Government from its threatened real-terms pay cut.

Delegates at the Easter conferences also voiced concern about the potential for pay-by-postcode, where the existing top-up for London teachers could be replaced with graduated regional pay.

At the NASUWT union conference in Belfast this week, executive members said the union was a "sleeping beast" whose membership was now waking to fight below-inflation pay rises.

The union had got too cosy with the Government, said one; the Chancellor would face "a big problem" with the union, said another.

At the National Union of Teachers' conference in Harrogate, delegates voiced fury that teachers and other public sector workers were expected to bear the brunt of Gordon Brown's attempts to cut inflation.

They said young teachers could not pay their rising mortgages or rents, while Goldman Sachs financiers were ploughing pound;300,000 bonuses into big houses.

Jonathan Maunder, 25, a first-year Surrey teacher, said he and his partner Louise, a trainee teacher, spent half their income on rent in south London.

They pay pound;910 a month for a tatty and cramped one-bedroom flat above an Italian restaurant in Clapham Junction.

"It says something about what we value in society," Mr Maunder said.

"You're rewarded way and above your contribution if you go into the financial sector. If you choose education, health or the public sector, the Government takes advantage of you."

Tricia Flewitt, 49, a special needs coordinator from Derby, did not know how she would cope. Her husband, John, is being made redundant from a chemical plant today: "Instead of leading quite a comfortable life we are looking at having to go without," she said.

Retail-price index inflation rose to 4.6 per cent last month, well above the 2.5 per cent pay rise that teachers get this year and the 2 per cent that the Chancellor wants to restrict them to each year from 2008 to 2011.

End-of-year inflation figures are to be published next Tuesday and the School Teachers' Review Body is expected to raise the pay discrepancy with Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary. But Mr Johnson is likely to veto any additional pay rise.

Mr Johnson has also asked the review body to consider changes to regional pay bands, after the Department for Constitutional Affairs set the model for geographically determined public pay deals.

Steve Sinnott, the NUT general secretary, announced he was suing the Education Secretary over his union's exclusion from talks between the Government, employers and unions that help set pay structures.

The Government's "social partnership", joined by all unions except the NUT, has been given more and more responsibility in drafting pay, performance and workload regulations.

The NUT conference agreed unanimously to prepare for a national one-day strike over pay with other public sector unions, conditional on the agreement of most of the union's 265,000 working members later this year.

The NASUWT agreed on Wednesday to ask 217,000 of its members whether they also wanted to take industrial action.

A day earlier, Mr Johnson told NASUWT, the social partnership's most powerful union, that its members were tackling issues, "rather than jeering from the sidelines".

Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, listed 40 gains for teachers that the unions had achieved in partnership with the Government.

But she attacked the implementation of one such achievement, teaching and learning responsibility payments, as a "national disgrace". She published a survey of 15,500 primary members, in which most said they were paid no extra for their added responsibilities.

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