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strikes planned for 30 November - is your school prepared?

17 November 2011

Around three million workers, including teachers, are being balloted for strike action on 30 November in protest over the Governments plans to increase public workers pension contributions. The Governments latest proposals have sparked negotiations but it seems unlikely that the issue will be resolved to the satisfaction of unions prior to the planned strike day.

Inevitably it is in the interests of pupils for schools to remain open. However the impact that this may have on health and safety, if there are not enough teachers to cover classes, is a key concern for governors and head teachers.

Unions must inform schools by 23 November whether or not industrial action will take place. This will give schools a week to decide what to do. A contingency plan is essential. Schools need to have a clear understanding of the law and the effect of the industrial action on the employment relationship.

School leaders should start thinking now about what they plan to do in the event of the strike going ahead. It may be wise for head teachers to issue a guidance note to all staff (and a separate one to parents) outlining the schools expectations for striking and non-striking staff on 30 November.

There are several issues that schools need to consider.

What happens about salary?

There is no obligation to pay for a day when an employee is on strike. A days pay can be deducted for the normal salary for a day in which someone is on strike.

Can I bring in agency staff?

Schools are not allowed to engage agency workers to carry out work normally done by striking staff. You may decide to ask non-striking staff to cover the classes of those on strike. Non-striking staff could legitimately refuse to do anything outside their job descriptions but most job descriptions include a degree of flexibility which may entitle the school to ask them to cover.

What about staff intimidating colleagues?

In normal circumstances, intimidation or abuse of staff amounts to a disciplinary offence and it would be worth reminding staff that this remains so during a strike. It is no excuse (as unions often argue) that feelings are running high. Whether or not this is the case, fellow colleagues who are not responsible for the pensions situation should not be a target.

Picketing

Staff on strike may take part in a picket line. Pickets are allowed to try and persuade others to take part in the industrial action. This can be intimidating to all employees (whether they are union members or not). Employees may refuse to cross picket lines, in support of those on strike, or may want to cross but fear for their safety if they do so. We recommend schools familiarise themselves with the Code of Practice on Picketing. This sets out key points including guidance on the number of pickets and that pickets should not be abusive or intimidating towards those wanting to work.

Health and safety

The duty to provide a healthy and safe environment for both staff and students continues throughout the operation of any industrial action. Therefore the potential impact of the strike on the school must be assessed. Risk assessments should be reviewed and reformulated in light of the strike action that may be taking place at each particular school.

The obligation to provide a safe and healthy environment does not extend to those on strike. The schools primary consideration should be the safety of its pupils and non-striking staff. If there are not enough teachers to cover all classes then other options, apart from closing for the day, should be considered (for example closing for part of the day or asking only certain year groups to attend).

The pensions strike is unusual in that although the dispute is with the Government, the impact is on individual schools. This dynamic will mean that in many cases, school leaders will have more sympathy with those on strike than may otherwise be the case. Despite this, there is still a difficult balance to be struck between continuing education and ensuring a safe environment.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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