Exclusive: Teachers To Join Mass Public Sector Walkouts After Voting For Strike Action

More than 250,000 teachers in England and Wales will take part in their largest-ever walkout next month, HuffPost UK can confirm.
Around 24,000 schools and education workplaces could be forced to close when teachers walk out on February 1.
Around 24,000 schools and education workplaces could be forced to close when teachers walk out on February 1.
Jane Barlow - PA Images via Getty Images

Teachers have overwhelmingly voted to join the wave of public sector strike action, HuffPost UK can reveal.

It means more than 250,000 teachers in England and Wales who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) will stage the profession’s largest-ever walkout in a dispute over pay.

Turnout was more than 50% — the threshold required by law — with “almost all” teachers voting for strike action in a ballot of 300,000 staff.

Around 24,000 schools and education centres could be forced to close on February 1 — when 100,000 civil servants at the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union will also be on strike.

It promises to be the biggest day of disruption so far in the current wave of industrial unrest that has also seen nurses, ambulance staff, postal workers and rail workers protest over pay and working conditions.

In England, 90% of NEU teacher members who voted in the ballot backed strikes, on a turnout of 53%.

In Wales, 92% of NEU teacher members who voted in the ballot backed strikes, on a turnout of 58%.

Support staff will not join in the strike action in England after the union failed to meet the 50% turnout threshold — but they will walk out in Wales.

A source close to the NEU executive told HuffPost UK: “This is a result that will hopefully send shockwaves through the government, which simply didn’t believe it was possible for us to do this.

“It will be more damaging than many other industrial actions. Most kids will be at home for the day, meaning parents will need childcare.

“This result was only possible due to our strategy, planning and smart use of technology and data.”

The NEU’s ballot called for a “fully funded, above-inflation pay rise” to compensate staff for a decade of eroded wages. Research by the union estimates that its members have lost a minimum of £64,350 in earnings since 2010.

The government has upped its offer of a pay rise to 5% for most teachers in England and Wales this year, while offering those who are newly qualified a 8.9% increase to meet the commitment to increase starting salaries to ÂŁ30,000 by 2023.

However, the teaching unions argue that the pay offers amount to a real-terms pay cut given that the rate of inflation stands at 10.7%.

The NEU’s result will create a further headache for the government, which is struggling to put an end to mass strikes in the public sector.

This month alone will see strikes by ambulance workers, nurses, Abellio bus drivers and physiotherapists, as well as teachers in Scotland.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), whose members will strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week, have warned that they will ask double the number of nurses to walk out in a bid to increase pressure on the government.

In a sign that the government’s stance could be softening as the industrial unrest intensifies, Unison said the health secretary, Steve Barclay, told the health unions that he was seeking a high pay offer for NHS workers from the Treasury.

Teachers in Scotland have already been on strike over pay. The Educational Institute of Scotland union has organised 16 consecutive days of action starting from Monday January 16.
Teachers in Scotland have already been on strike over pay. The Educational Institute of Scotland union has organised 16 consecutive days of action starting from Monday January 16.
Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images

Ministers are also talking positively about reaching a deal to end rail strikes. Transport secretary Mark Harper confirmed at the weekend that he had given the train operating companies “permission” to make a new offer to the unions.

The planned combined action by teachers and civil servants on February 1 aims to recreate the industrial unrest of 2011, which saw two million workers go on strike over the government’s changes to public sector pensions.

A brief moment of respite for the government came at the end of last week when it was confirmed that a strike ballot organised by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) failed owing to poor turnout.

Under the Trade Action Act of 2016, unions deemed to provide a “public service” must reach a turnout threshold of 50%. There is an additional requirement to ensure that 40% of those who are eligible to vote then back strike action.

NASUWT said that while nine in 10 of their members voted to strike over pay, the government’s “anti-trade union legislation has prevented members in state-funded schools and colleges from taking industrial action”.

On Monday, the National Association of Headteachers, which represents primary school leaders, confirmed that its ballot had also fallen after it failed to meet the threshold margin.

Speaking ahead of the result, one of the NEU’s joint general secretaries, Kevin Courtney, said the union had undertaken a data operation that involved 70,000 conversations with union representatives through the NEU’s app as well as 20,000 conversations with target members.

The NEU also uses a central data system called Communicator which collects information from representatives and its organising platform Activate. The data platform shows ever interaction the union has had with its members, allowing it to identify target voters.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan said: “While I welcome the outcome from the National Association of Headteachers not to strike, it is deeply disappointing for children and parents that NEU teacher members have voted in favour of walking out.

“Talks with union leaders are ongoing and any strike action from one union will have a damaging impact on pupils’ education and wellbeing, particularly following the disruption experienced over the past two years.

“We have already met the unions’ request for an additional £2 billion in school funding, which will take real terms spending on schools to its highest level in history.”

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing tonight announced two more strike dates in their ongoing dispute over pay.

Nurses in England and Wales will walk out for 12 hours on February 6 and 7 unless progress is made on reaching a deal.

The RCN’s general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen said nurses were striking once again “with a heavy heart”.

“Rather than negotiate, Rishi Sunak has chosen strike action again,” she said.

“We are doing this in a desperate bid to get him and ministers to rescue the NHS. The only credible solution is to address the tens of thousands of unfilled jobs — patient care is suffering like never before.”

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