Unions unite behind 35-hour week

Unions south of the border have joined Scottish colleagues in calling for a single voice for teachers. For the first time in 100 years, teachers in England and Wales have united to challenge the Government over control of workload.

Following their Easter conferences, the unions are demanding the same contractural 35-hour week that was agreed through the post-McCrone talks in Scotland earlier this year, but Estelle Morris, the Schools' Minister, has ruled out the prospect.

Campaigners for a single union in England and Wales feel the prize is at last within their grasp after a historic motion to launch a joint campaign was agreed unanimously by all three of the main classroom unions. But the unity remains fragile.

Doug McAvoy, National Union of Teachers general secretary, declared that a single union would be achieved within eight years. "It involves compromise. It involves accommodation. It involves finding consensus," Mr McAvoy said. "But the prize is invaluable."

And he issued a warning: "Once lost, that opportunity will not reappear for many, many years."

Ronnie Smith, Educational Institute of Scotland general secretary, and an ally of the Mr McAvoy, has issued repeated calls for unity north of the border. In anewspaper article earlier this month, he said: "To any outside observer, the arrangements for representing the profession are a mess. An urgent overhaul is needed - not for the sake of tidiness or simplicity, but to ensure that teachers' unions can meet the new challenges which confront them. The McCrone deal is but one more challenge."

Mr Smith believed the costs of local bargaining in 32 local authorities would lead to hikes in union subscriptions that may force some teachers to reconsider their membership.

Next week, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association at its annual conference in Peebles will debate such an increase.

Tino Ferri, Scottish spokesman for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, derided any talk of merger as "wishful thinking".

Pat O'Donnell, acting Scottish official, said: "The history of teaching unions is that they do separate."

Mr Ferri said: "The interests of teachers are best served by having individual voices. I have always maintained there should be close unity - we are all affiliated to the STUC - and we should communicate and have a dialogue, but one union would be dangerous. That would lead to what has happened in the NUT - splinter groups."


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