Compensation that we deserve

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Thanks to Jon Slater and Michael Shaw for highlighting the hazards faced by teachers in their working lives and the compensation secured by unions for them in 2005 ("Compensation hits new high", TES, April 7). Let me add a little to their report.

As you said, the National Union of Teachers does not keep a running total of these awards. To do so would be misleading, fuel the myth of the greedy compensation culture, and indicate our participation in some kind of compensation awards competition. That is not our purpose.

The greater part of the compensation secured in claims is for earnings lost as a result of workplace injuries that could and should have been prevented; breaches of contractual obligation; unlawful discrimination or the denial of employment rights; and those appalling cases where teachers are the victims of criminal violence.

This is not to line the pockets of teachers so that they can head off to the sun. It is to restore livelihoods that have been unfairly and unjustly damaged.

The cases include psychological injury caused by unacceptable levels of stress which could and should have been reduced. Redress in the form of compensation in such cases contributes only partially to rebuilding shattered lives and careers.

Prevention of these injuries is preferable to compensation after the event.

Making employer negligence expensive when it occurs is not only justice for the teacher victim, but a deterrent and a warning to employers and their insurers that it is in their interests to make workplaces safe and to tackle workplace stress positively and decisively.

Simply to add up the sums secured for teachers in any year is misleading; much of what we do for individual cases creates precedents for others who then benefit from the arguments we have successfully maintained and the points of law we have established.

In very large part, we safeguard the rights of teachers through our presence and profile by being there to provide them with legal and casework services dedicated to the needs of members.

The real measure of our success, therefore, is not so much the total sum secured but rather the extent, scope and quality of the service provided.

That is why whenever I see these figures for compensation won, I am naturally pleased at what has been achieved, but think too of how much more could be achieved, both in remedy and prevention, if the teachers'

organisations were working much more closely together to prevent the circumstances that put teachers in harm's way.

Steve Sinnott General secretary NUT

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