Your questions answered about Teachers’ strikes.
By the time this newsletter is published, the National Education Union (NEU) will have held its second day of strike action and, if the parents on my son’s class WhatsApp group are anything to go by, many people are struggling to understand why Schools are unable to give much advance notice of school closures.
Yesterday’s strike day across the South of England and Wales also had the misfortune of landing on the same day as World Book Day which left many parents with the dilemma of whether to make a costume or not. Happily, for my son, he was able to go to school dressed as Asterisk and the £5I spent in Amazon on 59 fake moustaches (they don’t come in smaller packs) was not wasted.
Fancy dress dilemmas aside, there is no doubt that teachers strikes cause a real difficulty for working parents and the frustrations felt appear to be heightened by confusion around the rules regarding striking.
With more strikes to follow in the months to come, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about teachers strike action.
Who can strike?
Broadly speaking, all teaching members of the NEU who are working within state-funded schools are entitled to strike and are protected from disciplinary action as a result. Non-union members are also allowed to strike and will be afforded the same rights and protections that NEU members will get. However, teachers who are members of a different trade union that has not voted to support the strike are not allowed to join the strike action and can be subject to disciplinary action if they do. No other unions have voted to strike.
Although a ballot was conducted for support staff who are members of the NEU, this failed to meet the threshold for action to be taken.
What about support staff?
Support staff who are members of the NEU are not covered by the current strike action in England because insufficient votes were received from those members for strike action to be taken. Support staff in Wales did, however, vote to strike. Support Staff in England, therefore, are unable to join the strike action and have been assigned by Schools to supervise classes and provide alternative activities to children on strike days.
Is striking compulsory?
NEU teaching members do not have to strike if they do not wish to and there are laws which protect a non-striking member if they are threatened with or subjected to disciplinary action by the union as a result.
Do teachers have to notify the school if they intend to strike?
No, they are not required to give advance notice – although many will, of course.
According to the Department of Education guidance, Schools can ask teachers if they intend to strike in order to enable them to plan how to manage the strike. However, there is no obligation on teachers to tell their employer whether they will be participating or not.
The reason for this is because trade union membership data is regarded as “special category data” under Data Protection laws and therefore requires extra protection due to its sensitivity. Consequently, employees do not have to tell their employer which trade union they are a member of, or if they are a member of any, nor do they have to tell employers if they intend to take strike action.
Whose decision is it whether to close a school or not?
It is the head teacher’s decision whether to close a school or not, but the problem is that they may not know how many teachers are going to be striking. It’s a difficult call to make and one that depends, to some extent, on the willingness of teachers to notify the head teacher in advance whether they intend to strike or not.
Schools can however use agency staff and are not required to keep the curriculum on strike days. It comes down, therefore, to the individual school and how they decide is the best way to deal with the situation in order to minimise disruption.
Who can provide cover for striking teachers?
Schools are not prohibited from asking non-striking teachers to provide cover, but those teachers cannot be compelled to do so if they are employed under the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document. Teachers who are employed as supply teachers can be required to provide cover, providing of course they are not striking.
Do teachers get paid when taking strike action?
No, teachers are not entitled to be paid for any period they spend on strike. In addition, any days spent on strike do not count towards an employee’s period of continuous service – it does not, however, break an employee’s continuity of service.
Any other questions?
These are just a handful of commonly asked questions in what is a complex area of law. If you have an employment-related question regarding the current strikes or other industrial action which you would like answered, please get contact a member of the team at Real Employment Law Advice.