Gove warns against union 'militancy'

Education Secretary Michael Gove has warned against union "militancy" ahead of a planned walkout by teachers and public sector workers.

Mr Gove said the Government was doing everything possible to keep schools open on Thursday, including appealing to parents to help out.

He warned the planned action by teaching unions would damage the reputation of the profession and was "premature" as negotiations over controversial pension reforms were taking place.

Mr Gove told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "If schools aren't open on Thursday there will be massive inconvenience for working parents, in particular single parents, who will have to rearrange childcare at very short notice.

"I think it is wrong for people who are working hard to have their lives disrupted in this way.

"So I think it is right that schools to stay open. Maybe they won't be offering the traditional menu but I think they should be open so the children are doing something purposeful and people aren't inconvenienced."

He added: "I do worry that taking industrial action, being on the picket line, being involved in this sort of militancy will actually mean that the respect in which teachers should be held is taken back a little bit and I think that will be a shame for all of us who want a better education system."

Mr Gove said the Government would "do everything possible to make sure schools stay open" with arrangements which could see "parents going in to help".

He said anti-strike legislation "has to be kept under review" and acknowledged that different options were being looked at following reports a minimum threshold on strike ballot was being considered by ministers.

But he added: "The one thing I don't want to do is to ratchet up the rhetoric because I think it is important we get back to talking."

However he warned the unions: "The public have a very low tolerance for anything that disrupts their hard-working lifestyles."

Mr Gove said he believed it was "wrong" for teachers to contemplate strike action, unlike other professionals in the public services.

"You don't see hospital consultants going on strike and I don't believe teachers and headteachers should.

"It's within their rights, it's a civil right, but I think it is wrong in terms of the reputation of the profession."

On Thursday up to 750,000 teachers, lecturers, civil servants and other public sector workers take action over and there are threats of further walkouts throughout the summer and autumn.

Speaking on the same programme, shadow cabinet minister Peter Hain declined to urge people to go to work on Thursday and added that they went on strike if they "really think they have got no option".

"Teachers and others are not strike-happy. What this government should do is withdraw their unilateral, reckless attacks on these workers and get round the negotiating table like everyone wants them to do."

Former prime minister Tony Blair also urged the unions today to "engage with the process of change".

Speaking to BBC1's The Politics Show, he said the unions had "got to modernise" and not end up as "small c conservatives".

"I said this constantly when I was leader and they used to think that meant I was anti union," he said.

"I'm not, I'm in favour of strong trade unions, I think it's great. But you've got to understand today how fast the world is changing. And what you've always got to be careful of - particularly with public sector unions, is you don't become 'small c' conservatives."

Asked about the public sector strikes over pensions, Mr Blair added: "I just think the best thing is for them to engage with the process of change."

In an interview with The Guardian yesterday, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the unions needed to get their message across better and see strikes as "the very last resort".

"The most important thing for the unions is to get the public to understand what their argument is," he said.

"I don't think the argument on public sector pensions has yet been got across as to some of the justices contained on what the Government is doing. I think strikes must always be the very last resort."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, told Sky News' Murnaghan programme: "There's been a lot this weekend about teachers being unprofessional.

"I have to say to you: we are taking this action because the Government has been unprofessional and inept.

"It has not negotiated properly, it hasn't even presented its case."

She added: "I know that taking industrial action will cause disruption to parents, but I would say this to them: if the Government gets away with doing a Robert Maxwell on our pensions, which is what it's trying to do, there will be no honourable teaching profession.

"Good teachers won't want to go into the profession because it won't be worth their while to do so."

Dr Bousted attacked Mr Gove's proposal for a "mum's army" to help keep schools open.

She said: "I think the Secretary of State should understand that the first responsibility of headteachers is for the health and safety of their pupils.

"The idea that you can have untrained people in baby-minding large numbers of children, with all the potential that has for accidents, for chaos, for poor behaviour, I think that is a nonsense.

"I do think the Secretary of State should leave it to headteachers, who are trained to make these decisions, to make correct and proper decisions about whether it would be safe to keep their schools open, not to have a mum's army who haven't been trained in classrooms where it could be very dangerous."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, speaking on Murnaghan, called for the Government and unions to "see sense".

He said strikes demonstrated a "failure on both sides" adding: "There are still a number of days left and I live in hope the Government will sit around the table and we'll try and resolve this."