Teaching union conferences vote for ballots on industrial action

The April 2000 annual conferences of the UK's two largest teaching trade unions supported proposals for ballots on industrial action – on the issues of performance-related pay and excessive workload respectively. Differences over objectives and tactics continue to be apparent, both between the two unions and between their leaderships and activists.

As in 1999 (UK9904199N), the 2000 annual conferences of the two largest UK teaching trade unions - the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) - held over the easter period, adopted resolutions calling for ballots on possible industrial action.

The conference of the largest union, the NUT, voted for an intensified campaign against the new performance-related pay scheme for teachers that is currently being introduced (UK9812169N). Delegates supported calls for membership ballots on various proposals for industrial action, including refusing additional workload arising from the imposition of performance-related pay, refusing to undertake work not required by teachers' conditions of service and staging a one-day strike over the scheme. A survey by the union claims strong membership support for such action, including 60% support for a ballot on a one-day strike.

The second largest teaching union, the traditionally more moderate NASUWT, is less strongly opposed to the government's pay reforms. At its conference, the union called for a ballot on industrial action short of a strike designed to protect members from unnecessary workload and to limit hours of work. However, some delegates at the conference reportedly expressed the view that the NASUWT leadership should take a more robust stance against the implementation of performance-related pay.

The NUT general secretary, Doug McAvoy, was publicly critical of the NUT conference's vote in favour of a strike ballot, arguing that members were unlikely to support a strike and that a strike would undermine parental support for teachers. For the government, education secretary David Blunkett was dismissive of the NUT's strike threat, insisting it would make no difference to the government's plans. The NASUWT general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, commented that events at the NUT conference would damage the public standing of the teaching profession. Mr McAvoy has since announced that he has written to his NASUWT counterpart and to John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, proposing "consultations which could lead to a joint ballot on shared objectives".

Earlier in April, the NUT was given the go-ahead to mount a High Court challenge to the government's new performance-related pay system. The NUT is seeking judicial review of key aspects of the system, arguing that they had not been subject to adequate consultation. A judge ruled that the union had an arguable case, which should go to a full hearing. The union is particularly unhappy that teaching staff as well as school heads and external assessors could be expected to comment on the suitability of colleagues for pay increases. It regards this as divisive and tantamount to "informing". The government says that, under the new procedures, heads of department will be consulted about teachers they manage.

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