Teachers lose legal challenge

20th December 2002 at 00:00
SO-CALLED local negotiating implies talks at local authority and not school level, Lord Nimmo Smith has told the Scottish Secondary Teachers'

Association in the first serious legal test of the post-McCrone national agreement.

The union has lost a Court of Session judicial review of the working time agreement in North Lanarkshire after one of the country's senior judges ruled that the authority's joint negotiating committee for teachers (JNCT) was perfectly justified in specifying arrangements for parents' nights and the timing of departmental meetings in all its 26 secondaries.

In a curious twist, the Educational Institute of Scotland gave evidence with the local authority on behalf of the JNCT.

Both the country's major union and local authority employers will now sleep easier after the defeat of the SSTA's challenge. "It's a victory for McCrone and professionalism. Had the union won, it would have led to chaotic practices in thousands of schools across Scotland which would have had to negotiate complex issues at school level," Michael O'Neill, director of education in North Lanarkshire, said.

In a written judgment, Lord Nimmo Smith argues that there is no point setting up 32 negotiating committees across Scotland if all they have to do is lay down procedures for negotiations in each school.

"The word 'local' in this context must mean that the functions of a local negotiating committee are intended to extend to the whole of each education authority's area, 'local' being used in the same sense as in 'local authority'," he states.

The SSTA was unhappy about the agreement on departmental meetings - most of which are being held outside the school day - and challenged the authority of the JNCT, winning an interim interdict to stop the local negotiating committee from settling five remaining school disputes over the timings of meetings.

Mr O'Neill said the union has only 300 members out of 5,000 teachers in North Lanarkshire and was out of step with the deal that was approved in a teachers' ballot. Local research had shown that holding departmental meetings during the day was equivalent to losing 52 members of staff across the authority. Despite the change to the arrangements, staffing has been maintained.

Lord Nimmo Smith observes that one of the compromises reached in the JNCT was the balance of working time for individual teachers and the staffing levels in schools.

The SSTA is considering the judgment but points out that individual teachers could yet challenge aspects of local agreements.

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