Academies are to be asked to pay nationally agreed salary rates to teaching assistants and other support staff after a significant government about-turn. Emboldened by the policy win, unions will now push for teachers in academies to be paid according to national scales.
Unison, which represents about 200,000 support staff, is one of the Labour-affiliated unions that has extracted policy concessions from embattled ministers. The cash-for-honours scandal is reported to have scared off wealthy donors who financed Labour's election campaigns, forcing the party to become more dependent on the unions.
Senior ministers met union leaders at Labour's National Policy Forum at Warwick University late last month, in the first of a series of meetings to discuss the unions' policy demands. An unpublished draft policy paper, agreed by the ministers and the unions, lays out several proposed changes to industrial relations in schools.
Ministers have agreed that the new national pay negotiating body will, as a matter of priority, shift support staff from term-time to 52-week contracts. At present, many are not paid during school holidays.
They have also agreed that academies will be represented on the negotiating body, which is to be established next month. Jim Knight, the schools minister, had previously told told a support staff conference that academies would continue to set their own pay.
The about-turn poses a challenge: each academy has its own contract, so it would be difficult to enforce a national pay deal unless the academies agree.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said the agreement affirmed the central role of public servants - not private companies - in delivering public services. "Extending protections and agreements to staff across all education providers is an integral part of that," he said.
Unison said some academies, such as those belonging to the Ark, Oasis and United Learning Trust groups, had agreed to pay staff in line with national agreements. But others, such as Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, had not responded to the union, it said.
Michael Griffiths, head of Samworth Church Academy, said the school had good working relations with most unions, but Unison had failed to turn up to a meeting about support staff contracts. His staff were employed on a mixture of inherited national contracts and individual contracts.
"If 50 per cent of our support staff are employed on the national contract, then it seems right and proper that we should be represented on the negotiating body," he said. "But I think most academies will want to retain maximum pay flexibility to offer staff the best contracts they can."
Teaching unions are now putting renewed pressure on ministers to include teachers at academies in the national pay scales.
Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said his union was lobbying the Schools Secretary hard, but Ed Balls would not budge. In a letter to the union this week, Mr Balls had refused to require academies to comply with national pay and conditions.
"ATL deplores the remaining employers in academies who refuse to recognise trade unions or to implement reasonable national agreements, such as those on pay for teachers," said Mr Johnson.
A Labour Party spokesman said its National Policy Forum had asked grassroots members and outside groups to contribute to its election manifesto.
Drawing up and agreeing the actual manifesto document would take place nearer to the general election, he said.