The education secretary Gillian Keegan has questioned the National Education Union over the timing of its strike ballot results announcement and how it informed schools.
Letters published by the NEU show that Keegan has demanded answers to a series of questions, claiming officials were “keen to understand better the timeline” after the ballot closed.
But union leaders said it would “disappoint our members to learn that Gillian Keegan prefers a fishing expedition to constructive negotiations over pay and funding”.
The NEU announced last Monday that it had passed the turnout and vote threshold needed for industrial action, and has scheduled six days of strikes by teachers in England throughout February and March.
The results were announced at a Facebook live event at 5pm, and were circulated to the media and sent to the Department for Education at around the same time.
But in her letter, Keegan asked when the NEU had informed employers, when it received the results from ballot organiser Civica and why it did not receive the results on January 13, when the ballot closed.
She also asked the NEU to clarify whether it waited until February 17, the day after the results were released, to inform employers, and why the results were not announced sooner on the Monday.
The law states that unions have to take “such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure that every relevant employer” is informed of ballot results, and that this must be done “as soon as reasonably practicable”.
It is one of several requirements unions have to meet for industrial action to be lawful. Action that does not meet all the requirements can be stopped by court injunction by an employer, a union member or a third party.
‘We have been completely transparent’
In a response to Keegan, joint general secretaries Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said it would “stretch credulity to suggest the Union did not take all steps as were reasonably necessary to ensure all members and relevant employers were informed of the results of the ballot as soon as was reasonably practicable”.
“We believe the union has been completely transparent in the way it has announced and reported the ballot results.”
The union said it had informed the DfE “shortly before 5pm” on January 16 of the ballot results, and the department “then informed schools (and hence employers) that the ballot results would lead to strike action” in a post on its Education Hub blog.
The results were also subsequently announced at a Facebook live event, which was watched by 100,000 people, “including most, if not all representatives of relevant empoyers”, the NEU said.
The results were also shared on social media and received around three million views, and Civica’s independent report on the ballot was published online, the union added.
NEU ‘confident’ all relevant employers were informed
These communications “were the best and most practicable means of informing
relevant employers” pursuant to section 231A of the 1992 Act”.
“We are confident that all relevant employers became aware of the results of the ballots by these means at or shortly after 5pm on Monday January 16.”
Then, on January 17, the union said it also sent correspondence by email to “all relevant employers informing them of the ballot results”.
The NEU said it had received its results from Civica at 9.29am last Monday. It “checked these reports against all data sets and then made the arrangements to announce the results at 5pm that day”.
The union said it did not know why Civica did not provide results on the Friday when the ballot closed, but that the company had been “clear throughout the ballot process” that they would not send the results until the Monday.
Bousted and Courtney said the NEU was “obviously unable to given individual written notice to employers until it had received the scrutineer’s report”.
They said the union had been required to write to “over 6,000 individual employers in respect of ballots closing at noon on Friday January 13”.
Although the results were received by the union at 9.29am, it was “was necessary to check them and make the arrangements for their dissemination”, they said.