11th March 2016 at 00:00
Trouble and strike

Striking out

Are you a sixth-form college teacher going on strike next week? You may be interested to know that a bitter legal row over exactly how much pay should be deducted from the salaries of striking staff will be heard at the most powerful court in the land later this year. And at the crux of the issue is a 146-year-old piece of legislation.

On Tuesday, sixth-form colleges across the country will be affected by industrial action, as thousands of NUT members go on strike in the teaching union’s campaign for better funding for the sector. But while it is colleges themselves who will bear the brunt of the resulting disruption, the NUT’s move will at least save them a few bob, as staff who go on strike will have a day’s pay deducted.

But how exactly is a day’s pay for a teacher calculated? The question has so far sparked separate legal challenges by two unions. And at the heart of the row is a difference of opinion about the Apportionment Act 1870.

In maintained schools (and academies that adopt the national pay and conditions as laid down in the “burgundy book”), the issue is relatively straightforward: if you decide to go on strike for a day, you lose one 365th of your salary. But after incorporation, colleges ditched this from their own version of the pay and conditions document, known as the “red book” (disappointingly, neither Chairman Mao nor Michael Aspel is anywhere to be seen).

This was because teachers were required to work 195 days per year – as well as planning lessons and marking homework outside their core hours. So the colleges instead decided that a 260th would be deducted from the salaries of sixth-form college staff who went on strike – calculated on the basis of teachers being nominally available to work five days a week, 52 weeks a year.

For a teacher earning £35,000 a year, this equates to having £135 deducted from your pay packet, rather than £96. The first legal challenge was brought by the NUT, which used an employee from Peter Symonds College in Winchester as a test case. This was eventually settled in the High Court in 2013, with the judge finding in favour of the college.

But before the case had even been decided, the NASUWT teaching union lodged its own county court case, with the subjects being three members from King Edward VI College in Stourbridge. The case was lost, but the union crucially was granted the right to appeal. And this case is due to go before the Supreme Court within the next six months.

Struck off

Meanwhile, for University and College Union (UCU) members working in FE colleges, the issue of strike pay is of little immediate importance. Despite holding two strikes (one of them alongside Unison) after the Association of Colleges recommended that its members do not give staff a pay rise for 2015-16 due to financial pressures, last week the union’s FE committee decided against a third day of strike action.

The UCU Left faction had been vociferously campaigning for a strike alongside the NUT on 15 March. But in a testy blog that slammed the union’s “massive mistake”, the group claimed that the UCU general secretary Sally Hunt had told the committee that, even if they voted for strike action next week, she would overrule their decision.

“This decision makes no tactical sense,” the blog continues. “It is like destroying all your weapons before you engage in battle.”

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