More strikes planned over 'underfunded' pay scheme

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The Independent Online

Teachers are threatening to call further strikes over pay unless the Government agrees to fund performance bonuses for thousands of staff.

Delegates at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference in Scarborough voted unanimously for the right to strike in September – accusing ministers of breaking a promise to fund their bonuses in full.

They claim the Government has underfunded its much-vaunted performance-related pay scheme by £1bn, meaning only about half the staff who deserve the £1,000 bonuses will be able to receive them.

Introducing the strike proposals, Roger Kirk, a former union president, warned Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education: "Estelle, for God's sake, give us the money, otherwise all hell is going to break loose."

Les Kennedy, a member of the union's executive, told delegates: "If you want to call me a wrecker in Tony Blair's sense of the word, I'm prepared to stand here and be one. That is a clear breaking of a promise to us – we haven't been told the truth at all."

Kathy Wallis, a teacher from Cornwall, demanded: "If the Government are saying we are doing a good job, why aren't they giving us the money?"

Margaret Morgan, another former NASUWT president, said teachers had been "double-crossed" and added: "I feel totally let down."

Delegates accused the Government of breaking a promise made by Ms Morris's predecessor, David Blunkett, that good teachers would be able to earn more than £30,000 a year by winning the bonuses. Mr Blunkett devised the scheme in an attempt to keep experienced teachers in the classroom. Previously, teachers had been forced to take on managerial duties to increase their salaries.

The vote means the Government faces walkouts or work-to-rule on seven fronts as part of the teachers' battle with ministers to improve their pay and working conditions.

Yesterday's was the first vote this year in which the NASUWT agreed to the possibility of strikes.

The union leadership has tried to play down the threat of strike action while they negotiate with Ms Morris over reducing teachers' workload.

However, the National Union of Teachers has taken an increasingly militant stance and is now threatening strikes or work-to-rules on six different fronts. Last week, the union voted to strike if teachers were not awarded an immediate pay rise of 10 per cent or £2,000 .

The Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers are already threatening to boycott the performance-related pay scheme, claiming it is underfunded. In an unprecedented joint campaign they plan to ballot their members next term on whether to refuse to assess staff's eligibility for payments.

However, the NASUWT voted yesterday against calling for immediate strike action, a move Mick Carney, a member of the union executive, said would be "political suicide". Instead, the union will wait until September, when the bonus scheme is officially in place.

The Department for Education and Skills insisted ministers would not be bullied. A spokesman said: "The threat of industrial action only damages children's education and the reputation of teachers."