Support staff threaten action

17th September 2004 at 01:00
The country's biggest support staff union has told branch members to consider industrial action if they fail to reach agreement over the Government's school workforce reforms.

Unison, which has 250,000 members working in schools, last week agreed to remain in talks over the deal - despite earlier threats to pull out.

The union's involvement was put in jeopardy when activists voted to shun the deal at its annual conference in June. Delegates wanted it to include national pay and career structures. The vote followed increasing anger at the slow pace of negotiations between Unison branches and local authorities.

As reported in The TES, only 35 out of 150 authorities have finalised deals and around 60 have not even started negotiations. This has led to further delays implementing the next stage of the reforms, including limits on cover for absent colleagues and guaranteed non-contact time.

At a meeting in London, Unison's executive agreed not to suspend its involvement but to hold further talks with individual branches to outline what they wanted from a national deal.

Christina McAnea, the union's head of education, said the process would last until at least Christmas when it would return to the table with the Department for Education and Skills and the local government Employers' Organisation.

But she admitted a national framework would be hard to come by, as support staff were directly employed by individual authorities and schools. Ms McAnea said the situation had already led to a series of stand-offs at a local level and support staff should consider industrial action where schools were failing to co-operate.

"The Unison committee recognised the concerns of branches over their lack of ability to negotiate and - even where agreement is reached - some schools are choosing to do their own thing," she said.

"We will be sending advice to branches that they have to consider all the options when they are faced with this, including industrial action."

The Employers' Organisation said a national pay deal was not needed and was confident local authorities would reach agreement with branches by 2007.

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