School staff should not be put under pressure to work on strike days or to cross picket lines, the NAHT and National Education Union have told their members.
The two unions have issued a joint statement ahead of strikes by NEU teacher members due to start next week.
The agreement has been drawn up to avoid tension between members of the two unions during the action and to demonstrate they are involved in the same dispute with the government.
It follows posts on social media that some headteachers have criticised those going to strike in emails or messages to parents. However, other leaders have been praised for their response and for expressing support for strikers.
The NEU reached the turnout threshold required for lawful industrial action, but the NAHT did not, though the leaders’ union confirmed today it intends to re-ballot members.
‘United in the aims of our campaign’
It means only members of the NEU by the time the strikes begin, and those with no union membership, can legally join the strike action.
The unions said the agreement recognised NAHT members in England cannot take action on strike days, but that NEU members will, “giving up a day’s pay to stand up for our joint aims for a pay increase”.
The two unions said they were “united in the aims of our campaign, and we expect all to recognise the fundamental right to strike and the responsibility of leaders to take management decisions to carry out statutory duties”.
“It is helpful to discuss our shared aims of good working conditions for all staff, recognise the different steps that union members can take and maintain good relations to further these demands.”
School leaders ‘have a duty’ to assess risk
Staff are under “no obligation” to provide advance notice that they plan to take strike action, and the unions have agreed that “school leaders will not put staff under pressure to do so”.
However, it is “also recognised that school leaders have a duty to carry out a risk assessment in advance to assess whether a school can be kept open or partially open”.
“We jointly agree that no pressure should be placed on staff to attend work on a strike day or to cross a picket line.”
Although NAHT members cannot strike, the NEU is calling out its own school leadership members “and would not expect work to be covered other than as required by statutory duty”.
The two unions pledged to “continue to work together to promote good relationships to secure our shared aims of good working conditions for all staff”.
No ‘inappropriate pressure’ on others not to work
The statement states that the “purpose of picket lines” is to raise awareness of strikes and the campaign, and for NEU members to “ask other staff not to go to work”.
Staff joining picket lines “will want to engage with colleagues and will persuade without inappropriate pressure on others”, the unions said.
Employers’ permission is not needed for picket lines that don’t take place on a school’s site itself.
However, the agreement states it would be “helpful if discussions take place at a school level where picket lines are planned and access to the premise for refreshment/use of toilets is agreed on”.
It comes after the NAHT issued its own guidance for members about how to handle the strikes. The government has also published advice for schools.