Anti-strike legislation passes the first test, but a wave of industrial action continues

Teachers “are serious” in their fight for better pay, the government was warned as controversial anti-strike legislation cleared its first hurdle in Parliament.

The education secretary is due to meet with the National Education Union (NEU) on Wednesday to avert seven days of strikes in February and March.

Nine out of ten teachers’ members from NEU – the UK’s largest education union – voted to strike in a result announced on Monday and the union achieved the legally required 50% turnout.

The result in England was described by one of the union’s joint general secretaries as “the biggest election result of any union in recent memory”, while the other said it would give teachers “strength in negotiations” later this week.

The union called seven days of strikes in February and March but said each individual school will only be affected by four of the days.

The teachers’ strikes are the latest announced strikes in a wave of industrial action that has led to work stoppages in sectors ranging from railways to healthcare in recent months.

Members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England are due to move out again on Wednesday and Thursday and have announced two more strikes in England and Wales for February 6 and 7, involving more NHS trusts than two days of strikes in the December.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs the public “is fed up with the constant, most unwelcome, frankly dangerous disruption to their lives” as the Strike Bill (minimum service level) was debated in the House of Commons on Monday night.

In Parliament, MPs voted 309 to 249, with a majority of 60, to give the bill a second reading.

Outside, despite freezing temperatures, crowds gathered in Whitehall to demonstrate against the law, with Labor leader Mick Lynch urging Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer not to be a “vanilla politician” and to support workers’ rights.

The bill would require minimum services from ambulance, firefighters and railway workers during industrial disputes, although unions and opposition MPs have condemned the proposals as unworkable.

Details of the minimum service levels to be maintained during strikes have yet to be finalized and the government says it will consult.

Mr Shapps told MPs: “We want a constructive dialogue with unions and the public is fed up with the constant, highly unwelcome, frankly dangerous, disruption to their lives.

“There comes a time when we cannot allow this to continue and that is why we need minimum levels of security and service – to protect livelihoods and lives, and it is frankly irresponsible, even surprising, for the opposition to propose otherwise.”

Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner slammed the bill as “one of the most untenable and stupid bills this House has seen in modern times”.

She added: “It’s threatening to fire teachers and nurses during a recruitment and retention crisis.

“It’s an outright assault on the fundamental freedoms of working people while doing nothing … to actually solve the crisis at hand.”


Angela Rayner (Peter Byrne/PA)

But former Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel said ministers should expand the list of sectors that should be legally required to have minimum levels of service during strikes.

She said: “I would also like to fundamentally ask the government to ensure that they always strive to keep laws and policies open and scrutinized so that we can continue to uphold standards to protect the public when it comes to going about their daily lives.” to lead .”

The first day of teachers’ strikes will be on February 1 and more than 23,000 schools in England and Wales are expected to be affected, the NEU said.

Head teachers in Wales will also take industrial action over pay, but head teachers in England will not go on strike after turnout at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) fell below the legal threshold.

The Department of Education (DfE) has offered most teachers a 5% pay rise for the current school year, but the NEW is calling for a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise.

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint NEU general secretaries, said in a statement: “It is disappointing that the government is choosing to talk about even more draconian anti-strike legislation rather than working with us to address the root causes of strike action. “


Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

dr Bousted pointed out that there will be no minimum service during the teachers’ strike, telling BBC Radio 4’s PM program: ‘I want that minimum service to be in place every day so that every day in all our schools we have enough teachers in the right subjects so that all children get the education they deserve.”

During an online briefing announcing the election results to members, Dr. Bousted: “They (the government) know we mean business. You know you are ready to take action to protect your jobs, protect your wages and costs, and protect your ability to stay in the workforce.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan called the strike vote “deeply disappointing” and said it will “have a detrimental impact on education and the well-being of students”.

The Department of Education has issued updated guidance saying the agency’s staff and volunteers could be used to teach on strike days, with schools remaining open where possible, although distance learning is also an option and gives priority to the most vulnerable students shall be .

NAHT has said it is considering re-running its industrial action vote in England over concerns the democratic process has been hampered by the postal disruption.

Another education union, NASUWT, has said it will continue its campaign on pay and expects to announce plans for more member elections “soon” after a vote last week fell short of the 50 percent turnout threshold. Anti-strike legislation passes the first test, but a wave of industrial action continues

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