Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

What to do when teacher trade unions threaten action

Trade unions had been considering action on the pensions issue in April, and while the issue has died down for the time being, tensions could flare again depending on the government's post-election stance.

It wouldn't go amiss for members to take a minute now to review the rights and responsibilities of unions and employers during action.

Above all, remember that action is taken against the employer - the head and leadership team are not the employer and thus not the target. Don't take it personally.

The identity of the employer against whom the action is contemplated, and the workplace of the employees, are central to the lawfulness of a ballot. It is important to check this.

For voluntary-aided and foundation schools the employer is the board of governors or the foundation, while for other schools it is the LEA. The head should keep in close touch with the employer.

If it is clear that it will be impossible to operate the school safely, the head should shut the school for pupils. If an employer wishes otherwise, the head must obtain a written instruction from the employer to keep the school open and written confirmation from the employer accepting responsibility. Verbal hints, threats and encouragement are not worth the paper they are written on.

Heads should check that any action has been properly authorised by a ballot of staff in the proper form. Union representatives should be asked to check that this is so. There is no immunity for the union if this has not been done.

Parents must be given at least 24 hours' notice of closure.

Members should report for work in the usual way and undertake appropriate duties.

The head should provide names of those who have taken action to an employer if this is requested, so that salary can be deducted appropriately. Similarly, the names of those who have worked normally should be recorded.

Finally, it is important to stress to all concerned that "we need to have a school to come back to". Things should not be said or done - on either side - which will undermine relationships for the future.

More information on working with unions and their representatives is found in the new SHA guidance paper Trade Unions and School Management which is in May mailing.

SHA members can also access it at www.sha.org.uk in the members' section, under guidance. Guidance papers are available only to members.

By Richard Bird, SHA legal consultant

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