Unions prepare for national strike

4th January 2013 at 00:00
NUT and NASUWT set to discuss `necessity' for action in spring

Thousands of schools across the country face strikes before Easter as the two biggest teaching unions prepare to escalate their campaign of industrial action.

While members of the NUT and NASUWT have already voted in favour of action over pay, working conditions and pensions, their leaders have so far remained tight-lipped about the next phase of their campaign. But TES understands that members of the NUT executive have agreed to "build towards strike action in the spring term". At a meeting last month, members also agreed to "approach the NASUWT nationally early in January about the necessity for strike action in the spring term".

The move would signal a significant escalation of the current work-to-rule industrial action, which started in October, and herald the beginning of what is expected to be a year of bitter disputes between the government and unions.

Members of the NUT and NASUWT are already following a list of 25 instructions, which cover areas such as appraisals, lesson observations and meetings. Teachers have been instructed not to submit lesson plans to senior management, send emails outside their directed working hours or cover for absent staff.

`Strongly in support'

But now members of the NUT are actively campaigning for the union's first national strike since November 2011.

"The earlier we take strike action the better," executive member Martin Powell-Davies said. "Teachers are not prepared to let Gove destroy everything we work for. In Lewisham, I've spoken to every single school rep and they are all strongly in support of strike action."

Kevin Courtney, the NUT's deputy general secretary, told TES the union would consult the NASUWT before making a final decision about the next phase of its industrial strategy.

He also said that unions were considering escalating their action short of strike action. "We will be holding talks with the NASUWT on how to deal with the pay situation," he added.

The NASUWT declined to comment.

In an NUT survey of its members, 84 per cent said they were in favour of striking with the NASUWT while 79 per cent said they would be prepared to take to the picket line alone.

Last month, education secretary Michael Gove announced plans to reform teachers' pay by abolishing automatic annual pay rises and giving heads more flexibility to set salaries according to performance. Mr Gove has said the move will give power to schools to pay good teachers more.

But the changes have been strongly opposed by the unions, with NUT general secretary Christine Blower saying they will "effectively demolish the national pay framework". The education secretary fanned the flames of the dispute by writing to every head in the country to advise schools they were entitled to deduct wages from teachers who breached their contracts.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education told TES that "several" schools had said they would deduct pay from NUT and NASUWT members involved in work-to-rule.

It also emerged that one local authority, Sandwell Council in the West Midlands, is considering deducting at least 5 per cent from the pay of teachers in maintained schools who are taking part in the action. The move has been put on hold after the unions threatened to strike, but Bob Badham, the council's cabinet member for children and families, told TES that the deduction could still be enforced.

"Teachers have signed a contract. If they break that, or are not carrying out part of that work, we said they should be deducted a proportion of their pay," the Labour councillor said.

"I am a trade unionist. I have total respect for the unions to take action. But if you take action, you should expect a deduction to be made. You should expect to lose wages."

Mr Courtney warned that the unions would be prepared to go on strike in schools where teachers faced pay deductions. "We think most governors will ignore (Michael Gove's) letter but if they don't there could be more escalation in some schools," he said. "Our view is that our action isn't disrupting education, it's allowing teachers to focus on what matters: the teaching and learning, rather than bureaucracy."

But the DfE's guidance was welcomed by Helen Hyde, head of Watford Grammar School for Girls. "We weren't sure what's contractual and what's not; the guidance is helpful and clear," she said. She added that her school would consider making deductions if it were adversely affected.

A bleak picture

According to a survey of 804 teachers published this week by the NUT:

  • 55% say their morale is low or very low
  • 71% feel rarely or never trusted by the government
  • 77% believe Michael Gove's academy and free school programmes are not taking education in England in the right direction
  • 77% feel that the coalition's impact on education over the past two and a half years has been negative
  • 77% oppose plans to give schools more discretion over teachers' pay
    • Source: NUT poll.

      Photo credit: Alamy

      Original headline: Unions dust off their placards and prepare for national strike

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