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regional teacher strikes - is your school prepared?

16 September 2013

The NASUWT and NUT are going ahead with the one day strikes on 1 October in Eastern, East Midlands, West Midland, Yorkshire and Humberside regions as well as 17 October in the North East, Cumbria, London, South East, South West and Wales.

As is often the case with teacher strikes, although the dispute is with the Government, the impact is on individual schools. Whether or not you have sympathy with the reasons for the strike, as a school leader, there is nothing you can do to resolve the dispute before the proposed action.

Inevitably it is in the interests of pupils for schools to remain open. It is clearly the policy of the DfE that you should keep schools open, wherever possible. However the impact that this may have on health and safety, if there are not enough teachers to cover classes, is a key concern.

There are several issues that schools need to consider.

Can I ask staff if they are going to strike?

Knowing how many teachers will be working is key to establishing what prospect you have of keeping your school open. Yes, you are able to ask staff whether they are planning on striking, the practical difficulty is that you can’t force them to reply.

What happens about salary?

There is no obligation to pay for a day when an employee is on strike. A day’s pay can be deducted for the normal salary for a day in which someone is on strike. It is good practice to ask those who are not on strike to sign in to demonstrate that they have attended work that day (and so should get paid). Even if the school is closed to pupils, that doesn’t mean the school needs to be closed to staff.

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 dispute with the Government and should not be a target.

Picketing

Teachers 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. If you are likely to have a picket line outside your school, it is worth familiarising yourself 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. Any teachers who refuse to cross a picket line should be treated as being on strike.

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.

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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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