Teacher strikes

Teacher strikes: Unions’ calls for mediated pay talks snubbed

Education unions’ offer to open talks through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been rejected by Gillian Keegan - who insists strikes must be paused first

Education unions’ offer to open talks through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has been rejected by Gillian Keegan - who insists strikes must be paused first

The DfE has confirmed the names of nine trusts and schools who will support schools struggling with Ofsted ratings

Education unions’ calls for pay talks with government to be facilitated by an official mediator in a bid to end the current stalemate have been rejected.

The National Education Union, NAHT headteachers’ union, NASUWT teaching union and ASCL school leaders’ union said they had proposed talks conducted by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, a non-departmental public body which provides dispute-resolution services.

They wrote to education secretary Gillian Keegan on Monday with the offer, warning children, members and government needed to see an end to the “current impasse over industrial action that is preventing us all from making any progress”.

But responding this evening, Keegan refused. She is still insisting NEU strike action next week must be paused for formal talks to go ahead.

The union has so far refused to do so, criticising government “pre-conditions”, despite unions in other sectors agreeing to pause strikes for talks.

In a letter to unions, seen by Schools Week, Keegan said she recognised “that ACAS can sometimes play an important role in moving negotiations forward but I do not think it is the right step in our current situation”.

“The GMB, Unison, Unite and the RCN have all paused strike action. I am clearly of the view, therefore, that working with ACAS whilst strikes are planned for 15th and 16th March will not allow for productive discussions.”

“The government has been clear. I am ready to open talks on a range of issues, including pay – but contingent on the NEU pausing their planned strike action.”

Paul Whiteman
Whiteman

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said “using ACAS to create a safe environment between parties in order to begin movement is a well-trodden path in industrial relations”.

“The success rate at ACAS is impressive. It is extraordinary for any party to a dispute to refuse such an offer.

“I am really worried that the government are not serious about finding ways through these difficulties. I hope for the sake of children the government can see beyond political posturing and join us all around a table.”

‘Short period’ before next strike should be exploited

Union leaders hoped ACAS talks would provide cover for both sides to more easily negotiate the terms of further discussions without abandoning their public positions.

The organisation acts as a neutral “conciliator” which attempts to find common ground. Unions hoped the process would give ministers more freedom to set out what they were willing to discuss on pay for this year.

In their letter, the unions said ACAS usually operated with the parties in different rooms, and discussions remain private and confidential until both parties agree otherwise.

“This would enable all parties to attend talks without publicly altering their position but would allow consideration of what the government may be minded to offer formally at any subsequent talks and consideration of how the unions may respond.

“It is our hope that with expanded knowledge and understanding between the parties, an acceptable position will be achieved for formal talks to begin again. We now have a short period before the next wave of action that we believe should be exploited in an effort to find solutions.”

In a statement issued earlier today, Keegan said education unions had been given the “same offer that was accepted by unions representing nurses, ambulance workers and physiotherapists who all agreed to call off their strikes and are now representing their members in talks with the government”.

NEU joint leaders Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said unions had made a “serious offer” to “engage in talks and look for a settlement of the dispute.

“We want to resolve this dispute in the interests of our members and the pupils they teach. The secretary of state has a duty to engage in negotiation. She must begin to exercise that duty.”

‘More interested in playing political games’

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said the government “appears to be more interested in playing political games than bringing forward a meaningful offer to improve pay and conditions and end the industrial dispute”.

And NASUWT leader Dr Patrick Roach said the “patience of our members is running out”.

“We have said that we are ready and willing to talk any time, any place, anywhere. Ministers now need to demonstrate that they are also ready to engage to resolve this dispute.”

In a message to school leaders today, the DfE said the “Keegan is willing to discuss pay this year and next, as well as workload, subject to the NEU pausing strikes and preventing further unnecessary disruption to children’s education.”

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