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Unions should initiate lawsuits

I respond to Nigel de Gruchy's letter defending the track record of the National Association of School masters Union of Women Teachers in legal matters(TES, April 21) .

The main thrust of my criticism of the NASUWT is its lack of initiative in legal issues. Members expect their leadership to be pro-active in such matters since the main reason why most teachers join a union is for legal protection.

Nowhere does he respond to my point that the vagueness of the 1988 Educational Reform Act offers an opportunity for the courts to rule on and clarify conditions of employment. For instance, how many hours is it reasonable for a teacher to work outside of directed time? Only the court can decide such a contractual matter. This is a question that needs to be addressed. So I put it to the general secretary: has the 1988 Act ever been given to counsel in its entirety with the brief to comment on areas that could be, and need to be, settled by the courts? I believe not.

The victory over Wandsworth in 1993 looms large in the NASUWT's reply. And a good victory it was. But Nigel de Gruchy fails to make clear that Wandsworth took the legal initiative by taking us to court because of our work-to-rule over tests and we had no real option other than to defend our position. That the judgment clarified Sections 219 and 244 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 "against most expectations" reinforces my view that we should be endeavouring to open up the law to our own advantage.

With the prospect of thousands of teachers facing redundancy in the next financial year the NASUWT had better sharpen up its legal act.


5 Gosden Road West End Woking, Surrey

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