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Government plans to allow employees to bring lawyers or other non-union representatives into disciplinary meetings will see “simple disputes escalate”, according to education unions.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Downing Street is examining proposals to bolster the rights of non-union members in the workplace to break the “stranglehold” of trade unions.

Currently the law only requires employers, including schools, to allow staff to be joined by a union representative or colleague at grievance and disciplinary meetings.

The new plans would allow staff to bring an external lawyer of a representative of a body other than a union, the newspaper reported.

A spokesperson for Edapt, a teachers’ union alternative that offers employment protection, said the move would “see equal rights under the law to workers and employees regardless of whether they are a member of a trade union or not”.

“It means that everyone is afforded the same rights to be accompanied in their working life during any difficult times, and it is challenging to understand why anyone would be opposed to such a positive move forward for employment relations.”

However, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary at the National Education Union, said union representation helps resolve matters “cheaply, quickly and amicably. Introducing lawyers and private profit-making firms to the mix will add costs, delays and animosity. Simple disputes will escalate unnecessarily.”

She added that firms could not replicate the “solidarity” and “understanding” of the education context.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “teachers and leaders would still want the full range of support provided by a trade union rather than having to hire a lawyer to represent them”.

Voice general secretary Deborah Lawson said unions are “democratically accountable to their members, whereas commercial companies are not”.

“The days of some unions striking at the drop of a hat are long gone. My own union certainly believes in negotiation and campaigning, rather than industrial action that is damaging to education or to the interests or welfare of those children, pupils and students in our care.”