Following a strike by NUT, ATL and UCU unions in June, teachers – and now even head teachers – seem likely to join other public sector workers on another day of action on 30th November, potentially closing schools across England and Wales. Meanwhile the government says pensions do need reforming.
Unions say the government, while “moving its position and making a new offer” on pensions, is still asking teachers to pay a lot more and work a lot longer to get a lot less.
“There was general agreement among unions, including our colleagues within the education sector, that while the improvements from the government’s initial position were welcome, they were not enough to call off the proposed strike on 30th November,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the higher education union UCU following negotiations with government on 2nd November.
And a joint statement by the TUC’s Public Services Liaison Group added:
“All the unions have indicated throughout this process their determination to reach a negotiated settlement on all these issues. That remains the position and unions will engage intensively in the coming weeks. But unless and until further real progress is made and acceptable offers are made within those negotiations, unions remain firmly committed to continuing their preparations for the planned day of action on 30th November.
“A further meeting of the PSLG will be held in November to consider reports on any progress made within the sector talks.”
The largest teaching union, the NASUWT, which did not take part in the June protest as it felt negotiations over pensions needed to be exhausted first, is now polling over 227,500 teachers in the first industrial action ballot it’s called in over a decade.
Members are being asked to vote on taking strike action, which may see them joining others on the day of action on 30th November, and on “action short of strike action” which could also kick in from 1st December. In this case members would stick to their core contracts and not provide cover or take part in additional duties. The NASUWT is balloting not just about pensions, but other issues including workload, job losses, pay and working conditions.
“Over half of teachers now report that they have seriously considered quitting teaching altogether in the last 12 months. Only the recession is preventing a mass exodus.
“The government has created a crisis in education and the result is that pupils, teachers and the quality of education are all suffering. NASUWT members are being asked to vote yes in the ballot to stand up for standards,” said NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates.
First vote to strike in 114 years
Now school leaders have voted to strike over pension cuts too, with members of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) setting the scene for heads to join teaching union colleagues on 30th November. It’s the first time in the union’s 114-year history that its members have voted to strike.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT said: “In many ways this is an unhappy milestone. I have spoken at length to many school leaders and not one has been anything other than upset and sometimes downright angry that they have been forced into this situation as the only way to stand up for the profession and standards.
“We welcome the government’s recent concessions as marking, finally, the start of genuine negotiations. It is sad that it has taken this long, but it is a start. We would like to avoid action if at all possible and will be negotiating intensely and in good faith in the run up to the 30th.”
The BBC reported that on a visit to a school on Tuesday, Education Secretary Michael Gove urged teachers not to strike: “Negotiation is going on at the moment… People don’t go into teaching for the money but it matters and we’ve got to be fair to people.”
Meanwhile schools minister Nick Gibb said reforms to public sector pensions are essential as life expectancy continues to improve.
“We are continuing to hold serious discussions about the reforms with the teaching profession,” he said.
“It is right that the unions look very carefully at what is on the table before taking industrial action.
“Strikes benefit no one – they damage pupils’ education; disrupt and inconvenience parents’ lives; and risk the professional reputation of teachers in the eyes of the public.”
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