Teachers' unions threaten strike action


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The Independent Online

The Government is facing the threat of co-ordinated strikes by the two biggest teachers' unions in the autumn after being accused of plunging education into a state of “crisis.”

The National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT announced a "historic agreement" to fight the coalition's "attacks" on jobs, pensions, workload and pay.

The Government is also braced for action by doctors over pensions after the first ballot in the profession since the mid-1970s.

Over 100,000 members of the British Medical Association have been voting on whether to take action, with the result expected on Wednesday.

The two education unions, which represent 85% of teachers in England and Wales, said their members were facing attacks on their working conditions, workload, pensions, pay and jobs.

"Should the Government refuse to take the current opportunity to negotiate sensible arrangements which protect teachers and defend education, then it is our intention to move to escalate industrial action, including jointly coordinated strike action and action short of strike action in the autumn," said a joint statement.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "Since the Government came into office, there has been a relentless and unprecedented assault on teachers' pay and conditions of service."

She told a news conference that the Government had plunged the teaching profession into a state of crisis, with 97% of teachers saying the coalition's policies were not improving education, and a 30% drop in applications from potential new recruits.

Over half of teachers were "seriously" considering quitting and many were only being held back because of the poor state of the economy.

By the autumn school term, teachers will be in the second year of a pay freeze and six months into increased pension contributions, meaning real terms cuts of £5,500 for senior staff and £3,500 for those on lower grades, said Ms Keates.

Teachers felt "stunned" by the continued "assault" on their profession and were willing to take a stand, she added.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "Since coming to power the Government has sought to undermine teachers.

"Occasionally saying we have the best generation of teachers we've ever had in no way compensates for the onslaught of attacks and threats to pay, pensions and working conditions."

She described Education Secretary Michael Gove as one of the "least popular" ministers ever.

The unions wrote to Mr Gove seeking urgent discussions about the "enormous threats" to teacher morale and the education system itself.

They called on the minister to reach agreement before the start of the next academic year if industrial action is to be averted.

Officials said teaching was now in "crisis", with growing numbers considering quitting and virtually everyone opposed to Government policies.

The NUT will now hold a fresh ballot for industrial action covering wider issues than the current pensions dispute, with the result due in the autumn term.

The NASUWT has been taking action short of a strike on pay, jobs, workload and pensions since last December.

In their letter to Mr Gove, sent by courier to his office, the two unions said they were issuing a formal joint declaration of commitment to defend the education service through jointly co-ordinated action.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "It is surprising these two unions are asking for urgent meetings about issues we have discussed with them on many occasions. DfE ministers and officials have met with union leaders more than 90 times since July 2010, including meeting with all the teaching unions just two weeks ago.

"It is disappointing that union leaders are again talking about strike action. Strikes only hurt pupils, anger many parents and will do nothing to raise the prestige of teaching as a career - something this Government is committed to doing."

Shadow education minister Sharon Hodgson said: "Both sides need to avoid adopting ideological positions, and it's important that the Government ceases its dogmatic attacks on the teaching profession."