Redundancies loom: do you know your rights?

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Teachers facing redundancy in the latest round of budget cuts are contemplating their future with very mixed feelings.

"They cannot understand why people are being made redundant when the Government is trying to recruit headless people to go into teaching," said Ken McAdam, member adviser for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), in a wry reference to the Department for Education and Skills'

latest advertising campaign. More than 700 teachers were made redundant as a result of the funding crisis, according to a TES survey published at the end of last month.

Teachers are puzzled that redundancies are on the agenda when the Government is supposed to be spending more money on education, according to the ATL, which has fielded many calls from members worried about their futures.

But the most common question, not unnaturally, is about redundancy payments. Teachers want to know how much of their service will count towards a pay-off, and whether their school will pay more than the statutory minimum, (the amount to which any employee in any job is legally entitled.) The answer is that up to 20 years of service is included in the rather complicated calculations of statutory redundancy payments. For each complete year of continuous service between the ages of 22 and 42, teachers are entitled to one week's pay; for each year of continuous service between the ages of 41 and 65, they can claim one-and-a-half week's pay.

But as the maximum award for a week's pay is pound;260, this would only add up to the princely sum of pound;7,800, even for someone earning more than pound;30,000 a year with more than 20 years' continuous service.

Fortunately, most state schools are prepared to be more generous; they are allowed to include any amount up to the actual weekly salary in the calculations. Independent schools tend to be meaner, the unions say.

Governors also have the option to top up redundancy payments with a "severance" payment, which will be paid by the local authority.They may, in fact, offer teachers the choice of taking either redundancy or voluntary severance. The most teachers can receive is two weeks' pay for each full year of service before the age of 41, and up to five weeks' pay for each full year over 41. The maximum is 66 weeks' pay.

Apart from money worries, teachers are sometimes plagued by nagging doubts that they have been victimised. "Some teachers say: 'The head has never liked me', and they feel that the financial situation is being used as an excuse to get rid of them," says Ken McAdam. But this can be very difficult to prove unless the headteacher has taken disciplinary action against them in the past or they have already logged instances of unfair treatment.

Yet governors do have to show that the selection of staff for redundancy is fair and objective, otherwise their decision could be challenged. The criteria they use must be equitable; the traditional last in, first out rule could be discrimination if it's applied to women who have recently taken a career break, for instance.

If teachers think an unfair decision has been made, they have the right to claim unfair dismissal and challenge their redundancy at an employment tribunal. Claims must be made within three months of their dismissal.

For further information, contact ACAS on 0207 210 3613, or visit its website Consult your union as soon as redundancy is proposed

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