The National Union of Teachers has committed to ballot its members for strike action next year if teachers aren’t granted a 5 per cent pay rise.
The union – now a section of the larger National Education Union following an amalgamation with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers last year – voted in favour of a motion that puts strike action on the table at its annual conference in Brighton today.
Under the terms of the motion, the union “commits to a ballot of all members for strike action, if our demands are not met, at the earliest opportunity in the 2018-19 academic year”.
The union will also now poll of members “as soon as is practicable” before the end of this academic year to “garner levels of support and identify areas of weakness to devote resources to” in the campaign for a strike.
However, any ballot will need the blessing of the ATL, which meets next month, and the National Education Union’s joint executive committee, which is next due to meet at the end of May.
Any ballot over strike action will also be subject to new tougher trade union rules for organisations representing public sector workers, which require ballots to achieve a turnout of 50 per cent and a vote in favour from at least 40 per cent of eligible members.
Kevin Courtney, the NUT’s general secretary and joint general secretary of the NEU, said he believed the union could meet the stringent requirements needed for strike action.
“It’s a really unfair threshold that we face in this, and to get over it, we’re going to have to really talk with members, and I think we can get over that threshold.”
Kirstie Paton, an NUT member from Greenwich, told the conference that she and others had been “inspired” by the recent action by the Universities and College Union, which went ahead despite the “incredibly demanding” threshold needed for strike ballots under the trade union act 2016.
“They beat the thresholds. The thresholds we were told would stop a national strike from ever happening again,” said Paton, who said a national strike lasting more than one day was needed.
“We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to have a national strike for pay. One day strikes do not work. We’re not into protesting anymore, we’re into fighting for our lives and our livelihoods.”
Courtney said today’s resolution “underlines the seriousness of the teacher recruitment and retention issue facing the government”.
“The union calls on the government to introduce a working hours limit for teachers to deal with the workload crisis and to begin a process of the restoration of teacher pay starting with a 5 per cent fully funded pay rise.
“The union will prepare to consult members widely on the action we need to take in order to win these demands and solve the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.”
Courney said teacher pay had been cut by 15 per cent in real terms since 2010, reducing the competitiveness of the profession and “adding to the intensifying crisis in teacher recruitment and retention”.
“Changes to the teacher pay structure have made the situation worse – pay progression rates for teachers are falling and many teachers are denied an annual pay increase.
“The impact of these attacks on teacher pay are clear – with government teacher recruitment targets missed year after year and teachers leaving the profession in record numbers, potential and serving teachers are turning away from the profession just when we need more teachers due to the increases in pupil numbers.”
The school teachers review body, which advises the government on teacher pay, is due to make its recommendations in the coming weeks, but it is unclear when the government will respond. Teaching unions have said that any pay rise must be matched with extra school funding to pay for it.
The NASUWT union, which is also meeting this weekend, today backed calls for a rolling programme of industrial action.