Working to rule sends out wrong message to children

Warr Zone with Simon Warr

IT was naive to think even for a moment that the Olympic spirit of mutual goodwill and cohesion would prevail here in the UK long into the future. No sooner had the flags been lowered and the East London stadium been evacuated than we had calls from some teachers’ unions for its members initially to work to rule (refuse to do lunch duties/invigilate exams etc). If this didn’t get teachers “the pay and conditions they deserve”, they called for an all-out strike. (Not much Olympic spirit on this occasion).

Even my own union, the NASUWT, usually a repository of good sense and reasonableness, has jumped onto the bandwagon. Shame on it. Unsurprisingly, one Labour MP has called for a general strike: shame on her.

Let’s consider the overall picture with regards to teachers and their pay and conditions. We teachers have had millions poured into our pay packets and invested in our schools since the late ’90s. We have enjoyed above-inflation pay awards year after year. We enjoy job security – even if a teacher is incompetent, it’s difficult for management to get rid of him or her. Teachers enjoy holidays aplenty and, over the last 20 years, a whole industry of learning support and counselling has been set up to assist us in our jobs. Indeed, when I joined the profession 30 years ago, we received comparatively poor pay, schools were ill equipped and there was a general lack of available cash. I joined to inspire children and, as I made my career choice, what my salary would be at the end of each month hardly registered in my mind.

We then get to pensions. The TPS (Teachers’ Pension Scheme) is the second-largest public sector pension scheme in England and Wales, with over 1.4 million members. Even taking into consideration the fact that teachers themselves make regular contributions, it still puts an enormous strain on taxpayers, who are subsidising it. We receive a lump sum and a regular income after retiring and it also provides our families with financial protection if we die. (Of course, a basic state pension is received on top). If a teacher becomes ill, he or she may receive that pension early, a pension that is index-linked to protect it against the effects of inflation.

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Let’s compare all of this to, for example, someone who is self-employed: he or she has no security of tenure, no generous pension, often no union representation. That person is unable to go on strike because if he/she doesn’t work, then business will be lost. A self-employed person in a recession has no alternative but to roll up his or her sleeves and work harder for less pay.

Regardless of whether or not teachers think they are being hard done by, I don’t believe that a profession that deals primarily with children should ever work to rule, or certainly go on strike, for matters appertaining to a personal pension or pay. It sends out entirely the wrong message to children – if you don’t get what you want, stamp your feet and refuse to carry on.

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The turnout to vote for strike action was a measly 27%, so it is obvious the vast majority of teachers realise the implications of strike action, i.e. parents having to make arrangements for their children to be looked after and realising, also, that when wages go up, the cost of everything else must go up and it all ends in a self-defeating circle.

We all abhor those fat cat directors and bankers and we want them cut down to size, but we can’t use them as leverage for unrealistic pay increases. Unions must be careful not to overplay their hand and take industrial action on issues for which the general public have little or no sympathy.

I would go so far as to ban teachers’ strikes based solely on personal issues of pensions and pay. Shouldn’t we be acting more maturely than the children we teach?

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