Teacher strikes

Labour would scrap minimum service levels for schools

Bridget Phillipson says 'attack on the rights of working people' is an 'admission of failure' over last year's pay dispute

Bridget Phillipson says 'attack on the rights of working people' is an 'admission of failure' over last year's pay dispute

Bridget Phillipson

Minimum service levels for schools are an “attack on the rights of working people” and would be scrapped under a Labour government, the party has confirmed.

Ministers announced last week that they would extend the requirement to provide a specified level of service during industrial action to the education sector.

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, invited union leaders to discuss proposals on a voluntary basis.

But she said government was “committed to using powers” to force through measures if a deal is not reached.

No details have been released yet as to how the measures could work in practice. It is understood unions will meet with the DfE again next week.

Legislation for the measures was passed last year in the form of the admission of the controversial Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act.

At the time, the government only announced plans to consult on minimum service levels for fire, ambulance and rail services, but warned that education could be included in future.

Labour had previously pledged to scrap the legislation during its first 100 days in office, and confirmed today this would include any minimum service levels put in place in education.

‘An admission of failure’

“Conservative chaos kept our children learning at home as ministers failed to resolve strike action earlier this year,” said Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary.

“This is an admission of that failure. Labour has been clear we will repeal this law which is an attack on the rights of working people.”

Labour has also said it will scrap the 2016 trade union act if it wins power. The legislation introduced tough new thresholds for strike ballots in several sectors, including education.

Ballots must reach a turnout threshold of 50 per cent, and have at least 40 per cent of eligible members voting in favour of action for it to legally go ahead.

Last year’s pay dispute saw the National Education Union win two ballots for strikes and take ten days of action.

The NAHT school leaders’ union and NASUWT teaching union also met thresholds in ballots held in the summer, but did not call strikes after members voted to accept the 6.5 per cent pay deal.

The ASCL union suspended its ballot after the offer was made, but said it believed it too would have reached the turnout threshold had it continued.

‘A spiteful and bitter attack’

Speaking to the Trades Union Congress annual conference earlier this year, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner accused the Conservatives of “preventing fair bargaining and holding back living standards” through the 2016 act.

“And this year they gave us the minimum service levels bill, a spiteful and bitter attack that threatens nurses with the sack.

“We know going on strike is always a last resort, but it’s a fundamental freedom that must be respected. So let me tell you loud and clear, the next Labour government will ask parliament to repeal these anti-trade union laws within our first 100 days.”

Keegan said last week the government “cannot afford a repeat” of disruption caused by strikes, “particularly as schools and teachers continue to work so hard to help children recover from the pandemic. 

“I am asking the teaching unions to engage with us and agree to put children and young people’s education first – and above and beyond any dispute.” 

But unions reacted with fury after being summoned to a last-minute briefing on the plans on Friday.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said “the move is nothing short of an overtly hostile act from the government and an attack on the basic democratic freedoms of school leaders and teachers”.

Geoff Barton, from ASCL, said it was “nothing more than an attempt to distract from her department’s own shortcomings”.

He added it was “unimaginable that there will any agreement over legislation that involves removing the basic rights of employees. Industrial action is only ever taken as a last resort, when all other options have been explored.”

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