Teachers striking would be ‘unforgivable’ in the wake of Covid disruption, Nadhim Zahawi says as union warns of industrial action

  • Nadhim Zahawi said such a move would be ‘irresponsible’ in wake of Covid-19 and the impact it had on children’s learning being limited during lockdowns
  • He said ‘young people suffered more disruption than generations before them’
  • NEU said it would consult its members in autumn and strongly encourage strikes
  • Union said pay cuts and high workload were hitting recruitment and retention

Teachers going on strike would be ‘unforgiveable’, the Education Secretary has said, as the biggest teachers’ union warned of industrial action over pay and workload.

The National Education Union (NEU) said it would consult its members in the autumn, ‘strongly encouraging them’ to back industrial action if the Government did not respond to its concerns in the next few months.

The union said pay cuts and high workload were hitting teacher recruitment and retention, causing ‘real damage’ to education. 

But Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said such a move would be ‘irresponsible’ in the wake of the upheaval to children’s learning caused by the pandemic. 

Teachers going on strike would be ‘unforgiveable’, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (pictured at Downing Street this week) has said, as the biggest teachers’ union warned of industrial action over pay and workload

Rail strike to go ahead as Shapps accused of ‘wrecking’ negotiations 

A fresh strike by rail workers will go ahead on Thursday after the union at the centre of a bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions accused the Transport Secretary of ‘wrecking’ negotiations.

Talks were held on Wednesday between the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), Network Rail and rail operators in a bid to break the deadlocked row.

But there was no breakthrough, with the RMT criticising Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Grant Shapps has wrecked these negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw their letter threatening redundancy for 2,900 of our members.

‘Until the Government unshackle Network Rail and the train operating companies, it is not going to be possible for a negotiated settlement to be agreed.

‘We will continue with our industrial campaign until we get a negotiated settlement that delivers job security and a pay rise for our members that deals with the escalating cost-of-living crisis.’

But Mr Shapps accused Mr Lynch of telling a ‘total lie’, arguing he had ‘absolutely nothing to do’ with the issuing of a letter from Network Rail or any request to withdraw it.

RMT members at Network Rail and 13 train operators will walk out on Thursday following a stoppage on Tuesday, crippling large parts of the rail network.

Around 60% of services ran on Wednesday as it took time for trains and crews to get to depots following the walkout.

Some services will start to run down on Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia will strike on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.

The company, which is also affected by the RMT dispute, advised passengers only to travel if it was necessary.

Mr Zahawi wrote in The Daily Telegraph: ‘Young people have suffered more disruption than any generation that’s gone before them.

‘And to compound that now, as recovery is in full swing and families are thinking about their next big step following school or college, would be unforgivable and unfair.’

The NEU criticised the Government’s evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body proposing a 3 per cent pay increase for most teachers in England, which it said would mean a ‘huge’ pay cut on the basis of Wednesday’s inflation figures of 9.1% on the CPI measure and 11.7% for RPI.

Deputy general secretary at NEU, Niamh Sweeney, told Sky News that a teachers’ strike was ‘more likely than it’s been in my 20 years of working in the profession’.

‘Teachers are saying to us that they are finding it difficult to get to the end of the month, their heating bills and their fuel bills means that they are struggling to survive’.

In a letter to Mr Zahawi, the union called for a fully funded inflation-plus pay increase for all teachers, as well as action on pay for other staff such as support workers, and measures to reduce workloads.

The minister was told that teacher pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms since 2010, even before this year’s increases in inflation, while their workload remains at ‘unsustainable’ levels.

The letter says: ‘Alongside the decline in teacher pay in real terms against inflation, it has also declined in relative terms against earnings. ‘Average teacher salaries are at their lowest level compared to average earnings across the economy in over 40 years.

‘Teachers and school leaders often tell us that workload is their predominant concern. ‘But right now, our members are telling us pay is a big issue too.

‘The combination of unsustainable hours, the work intensity during those hours and ever-falling pay levels are damaging our schools and the young people we are educating. 

‘Teachers are looking at their working hours and their pay and calculating hourly rates, which are alarmingly low. ‘The latest teacher training figures are very worrying; applications have fallen by 24% compared with last year.

‘One in eight newly qualified teachers left the job in their first year of teaching. ‘These young people have often finished a degree, then completed a postgraduate qualification.

‘They are a great loss to the profession, but more importantly to the nation’s pupils who rely on their teachers to educate and care for them.

‘You must respond to the new economic reality of double-digit inflation and the threat this poses to teacher living standards. We call on you to commit to an inflation-plus increase for all teachers.

the National Education Union said it would consult its members in the autumn, 'strongly encouraging them' to back industrial action

the National Education Union said it would consult its members in the autumn, ‘strongly encouraging them’ to back industrial action

‘It is not good enough to only propose higher increases for beginner teachers (which are themselves likely to be lower than inflation).

‘The current inaction from the Government on these questions is causing real damage to education and to our members’ livelihoods.

‘We have to tell you that failing sufficient action by you, in the autumn term, we will consult our members on their willingness to take industrial action. ‘And we will be strongly encouraging them to vote yes.

‘We can no longer stand by while you run both education and educators into the ground.’ 


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