Industrial action looks set to intensify after Britain’s largest teaching union announced walkouts over pay. Meanwhile, the government is seeking to limit strikes with a controversial bill.
The National Education Union (NEU) said its members “voted overwhelmingly” to strike on 1 February, with more than 90% voting yes. Its demands call for an above-inflation pay rise to meet soaring prices and energy bills. Following the day of national strike action at the start of February, the union will also hold a series of more-regional strikes over six other days in February and March.
The NEU said strikes will impact each school for up to four days. It will affect state school teachers in England and Wales, support staff in Wales, and sixth-form teachers in England.
The NEU’s leaders will meet with education minister Gillian Keegan on 18 January.
The government wants to take away the capacity to strike
It is press release, the NEU said the vote to strike came despite the government’s “restrictive thresholds” on industrial action. However, the government is set to tighten these even further with the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. The bill requires a percentage of union members to continue working during strikes, thereby defeating the point of strikes entirely, as the Canary previously noted. The bill also covers strikes in the public sector – including teachers.
Business minister Grant Shapps claimed on 16 January that the bill is needed because strikes across multiple sectors are “putting people’s lives and livelihood at risk”. However, the Guardian reported on 14 January that polls show a majority of the public still back strikes, even in the emergency services.
Underfunding schools is already impacting children
Trotting out similar copy-paste rhetoric, Keegan said the NEU’s decision to strike is “deeply disappointing to parents”. She also said the strikes will “have an impact on children”. However, as the NEU pointed out in its press release, the current situation is already having an impact on children.
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The joint general secretaries for the NEU, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, said:
The Government must know there is going to have to be a correction on teacher pay. They must realise that school support staff need a pay rise.
If they do not, then the consequences are clear for parents and children. The lack of dedicated maths teachers, for example, means that 1 in 8 pupils are having work set and assessed by people who are not qualified in the teaching of maths. Anyone who values education should support us in this dispute because that is what we are standing up for. It is not us who should turn a blind eye to the consequences of Government policy on schools and colleges.
The union also made it clear that it doesn’t want to carry out the proposed strike days. The joint general secretaries said the NEU will enter negotiations “at any time, any place”, but current working conditions for teachers and support staff “cannot go on”.
Meanwhile, members of the Educational Institute of Scotland union began 16 days of rolling strikes on 16 January. These will continue until 6 February.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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