Suffolk/Essex: Region preparing for teachers’ strikes
13:05 06 September 2013
Just days after the start of the new academic year, teachers are preparing for a one-day strike that could bring schools to a standstill across the region.
Members of the NUT and the NASUWT are planning a one-day strike across the East of England – which could force hundreds of thousands of pupils across Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire to miss a day’s schooling.
The regional strike is scheduled for October 1, and a national one-day walkout is expected to follow before Christmas.
The strike has been called in an attempt by the unions to open negotiations with the government on pay, pensions, and working conditions.
Suffolk NUT secretary Graham White said there would be major disruption if the one-day strike went ahead.
He said: “Across the region, 85% of teachers are in the two unions – in Suffolk the figure is 80%.
“Teaching is a profession and you have to be able to recruit high quality teachers – and if pay, pensions and conditions are eroded like they have been then there will be real problems.
“We know that a strike will cause problems for parents, but we don’t want that to happen and hope it can be avoided if (Education Secretary) Michael Gove agrees to talk meaningfully with us.”
Mr White said the unions had been frustrated in their attempts to talk the Education Secretary since he took office in 2010.
“He has offered to listen to us, but we were only offered half an hour and he said he would not change his mind before the talks even started so that seemed pretty pointless.”
Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education: “This is a national argument between the unions and the government and Suffolk children should not be dragged into it.
“Many people will ask how teachers can justify going on strike over pay and workload concerns at the same time as wanting to improve educational attainment as part of our Raising the Bar programme.
“On the relatively rare occasions that teachers go on strike, we support heads and encourage them to plan ahead and aim to keep schools open wherever possible.
“We know that many teachers won’t actually want to strike and will work with heads to keep their schools running. We can also use volunteers and parents to make sure children get to go to school.
“We would certainly urge negotiation and discussion rather than strike action and hope that both parties will come to an agreement before any strike action is taken.”
Mr Gove said there was “no excuse” for strikes, and accused the union leaders of attacking teaching.
“There is no excuse for going on strike. What is the complaint that teachers have? Is it that pensions are poor?
“It has been pointed out that even after recent changes, teachers have better pensions than the majority in the public and private sectors.”
He insisted he was willing to meet with the union bosses for talks “any time, any place, anywhere, to get them to see the error of their ways.”
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said the latest move was not a “reckless rush” to strike action.
“No one wants to be disrupting children’s education. Our experience is parents understand that if you attack teachers’ pay and conditions you are putting at risk children’s education.”
The unions accused Mr Gove of “megaphone diplomacy”, using public platforms to denounce them rather than engaging to discuss the issues.
“Since June Mr Gove has taken to going from one public platform to another using megaphone diplomacy rather than sitting down and engaging frankly”, Ms Keates said.