Teachers' Strike Action

The row over pay, pensions and workload continues and in March this year the two major teaching unions, the NUT and NASUWT, announced plans for strike action. The strike action is set to commence in the northwest on 27th June 2013 and it is envisaged that a succession of strikes up and down the country will follow in the summer and autumn terms, with the possibility of a one day national strike. The Department for Education has stated that less than a quarter of union members voted for strike action. However considering these unions represent 90% of teachers and there are over 400,000 members across both teaching unions, the proposed strike action is likely to have a significant impact on schools across England and Wales.

What is protected industrial action?

Protected industrial action is called as a result of a properly organised ballot and is in relation to a dispute between the workers and their employer, usually due to their terms and conditions. In this case the teaching unions are particularly incensed by the government’s proposals regarding performance related pay for teachers (to be introduced in September 2013) and changes affecting teachers’ pensions.

Notice of strike action:

Strike action must commence within 4 weeks after the close of the ballot and employers should be given 7 days’ notice of when strike action is to take place. The notice of strike action must include:
  • A list of the categories of employee to be called out (e.g. teacher)
  • The total number of the employees affected in the school
  • Alternatively the union can instead provide information which will allow the employer to ‘readily deduce’ the above information.
  • Please note there is no obligation on trade unions to disclose the names of members taking part.

Effects of industrial action on employees:

  • Loss of pay. Employers need not pay their staff for taking part in industrial action as they are withdrawing their labour;
  • Continuity of service is not affected, however, the days where an employee is on strike may be deducted from their overall length of service, and this may have implications for future redundancy payments and pensions;
  • Employees who are on sick leave which commenced before the strike action will retain their right to statutory sick pay (SSP) for that period of absence
  • If an employee reports that they are sick on the day of proposed strike action then the employer is at liberty to make their own judgement as to whether that employee is genuinely absent due to sickness or is taking part in strike action. Employees who cannot show that they have not participated in the strike action are not entitled to receive SSP.

Employers’ obligations:

Whilst strike action is technically a breach of contract, employees do have a right to strike provided it is carried out with trade union approval. It is therefore unfair for an employer to take action to dismiss or discipline an employee for taking part in protected industrial action.

What are the implications for schools?

There is growing concern that unless the government re-enters talks with the unions the proposed strike action could see many schools closed or partially closed during this time. In September 2012 the NASUWT and NUT announced that they were calling on their union members to take action short of strike action and issued instructions for a ‘work to rule’ in areas such as classroom observations, lunch time supervisions and examination invigilation.

Preparing for strike action

In terms of preparing for strike action schools can inform parents and can write to their staff to ask for confirmation of who will be intending to take part in strike action. Wording on such correspondence can be obtained from Peninsula’s specialist Education Team. For further clarification of this or any other matter relating to employment law in schools or other education establishments, clients should call the specialist Education Team on 0844 892 2810.

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