'Intransigence, petulance and contempt' – anger and frustration as strike ballots open

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We will know by early August whether widespread school closures are likely this autumn with the teacher pay dispute showing no signs of being resolved.

Ballots for strike action have been opened by the NASUWT, National Education Union (NEU), and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), with one union leader accusing the government of “intransigence, petulance and contempt for the views of our members”.

The votes close on July 10 (NASUWT), July 28 (NEU) and July 31 (NAHT). A ballot held by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – the first in its history – is also to take place this term.

Last month, all four unions pledged to coordinate their autumn strike action should their respective ballots meet government legal thresholds needed to be valid.

The NAHT and NEU ballots opened this week. The NASUWT is due to open its own vote on June 5. We are still awaiting news of when the ASCL vote will open.

It comes after the unions rejected the Department for Education and education secretary Gillian Keegan’s pay offer.

The pay offer centred on a 4.5% average pay rise from September 2023 as well as a £1,000 one-off cash payment this year. Unions have been pushing for a pay increase to match rates of inflation of around 10%.

Real-terms cuts to teachers’ pay equate to as much as 13% since 2010 with salaries for most teachers expected to fall by 5% in real-terms this year alone given the high levels of inflation (Sibieta, 2023).

A consultative ballot held by the NAHT in April saw 90% reject the pay offer and 78% saying they would be willing to take industrial action. An NEU consultation on the pay offer saw 98% reject it.

The NEU is the only union so far that has been able to meet ballot thresholds to take strike action, but the mandate of this ballot expires on July 13. The second ballot asks members: “Are you prepared to take part in strike action in furtherance of this dispute?

The NASUWT, meanwhile, saw 86% rejecting the pay offer in a consultation, with 77% indicating they would be willing to vote for strike action.

General secretary Dr Patrick Roach is furious with the government’s attitude to the negotiations: “The NASUWT has throughout said to the secretary of state that we are willing to engage anytime, anyplace, anywhere. However, due to the government’s intransigence, petulance and contempt for the views of our members, we have been left with no other option than to ballot for industrial action.”

He added: “Ministers have spent weeks refusing to sit down with us to find a way forward. Industrial action can be avoided if the government sits down and negotiates a settlement on pay and working conditions that our members can accept.”

In a letter to Ms Keegan confirming the union’s intention to ballot, Dr Roach wrote: “Despite our efforts to discuss these matters with you, and despite our commitment to reach a negotiated settlement to address these matters, you have chosen to state publicly that negotiations with you in respect of teachers’ pay and non-pay matters have been discontinued. The NASUWT has been left with no other option than to ballot its members over your failure to resolve our dispute on pay, workload and working hours.”

The NAHT says its ballot is being held over four issues – pay and funding; recruitment and retention; workload and wellbeing; and inspection – specifically “the impact this has on school leaders’ mental health and wellbeing”.

General secretary Paul Whiteman added: “We have had no further meaningful talks and instead the government has dropped its offer of a £1,000 cost of living payment as an apparent punishment for not accepting its deal. We have been left with no other choice but to seek this mandate for industrial action.”

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretaries at the NEU, said:“Due to the lack of engagement from government the NEU has been put in the position of reballoting its members to continue the dispute.”

ASCL members turned down the government’s pay offer with 87% voting to reject it on a turn-out of 55%. A spokesperson said that the timeline for its ballot would be confirmed in due course.

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