Thursday 22 July 2010

Hackney ballot wins significant workload gains

NUT members at Morningside Primary School have secured some significant gains after a strong 17 to 1 ballot in favour of strike action helped make sure that a new “Work-Life Balance Policy” was adopted by the school.

The policy - drafted jointly by Peet Naude, the school NUT rep, Mick Regan, the Hackney NUT Secretary, and myself – contains provisions that should provide some real protection against excessive workload.

Importantly, as well as clearly defining the 1265 hours of directed time and confirming NUT policy over meetings and observations, the policy also sets down limits to the additional ‘undirected’ hours that are mainly responsible for the 50+ hour weeks that so many teachers endure. It includes a demand that all activities are time-audited and that no new initiative is introduced without considering their impact on work-life balance.

Key points include:
• Following consultation, a regular calendar of meetings, deadlines and events will be provided to staff so that they can plan ahead and adjust their workload so as to help maintain a work-life balance.
• As part of our commitment to achieving a reasonable work-life balance, we agree to regularly audit staff to estimate the amount of additional hours that teachers are typically carrying out per week. Where an audit shows that a particular policy, format or initiative is contributing to excessive workload, or when it is raised by trade unions on behalf of staff, the school will consult and review the policy, format or initiative to seek to reduce workload pressures.
• We recognise that NUT policy seeks to limit the overall number of hours worked to a 35 hour week and commit to seeking to reduce overall working hours to this limit.
• Teachers must be able to exercise their own professional judgement and be able to use the need to maintain a work-life balance as a legitimate reason to decide to limit the time taken on carrying out a task. For example, a teacher could decide to limit the number of books that they were able to mark in detail within a whole class set of books.
• Properly conducted exit interviews, or use of exit questionnaires, when staff resign to find out if problems with work-life balance led to the resignation.
• Consultation between the head or deputy head and NQTs, new appointees, and those promoted internally, 6 weeks after they take up their new post, to explore work-life balance issues and to see if the school can offer further support.
• All new initiatives will be fully discussed with teachers and consulted upon before being implemented. Those consultations should include an audit of the working hours that might be required to implement the initiative and, therefore, consideration of what other tasks or initiatives will need be reduced or withdrawn in order to maintain a reasonable work-life balance.
• Teachers will not be expected to check email after 5 O’Clock Friday or during holiday periods.
• A yearly audit of planning to make it more streamlined
• Teachers not expected to take work home at week-ends
• Any PPA lost due to school closures, illness of cover teacher etc to be repaid within 3 weeks.

As with any policy, the key will now be to make sure it is implemented in practice. It is certainly a policy that could be used as a model for other schools to take on and adapt. Do get in touch if you would like a full copy of the agreed policy sent to you.

Martin Powell-Davies

Thursday 15 July 2010

July NUT Executive Report

The July Meeting of the NUT National Executive met as most teachers were looking forward to a hard-earned summer holiday. However, this could not be time for the Executive to take a break. The combined attacks of Academies and Free Schools, the axing of 700 BSF school building projects, pay cuts and job losses meant we had to be preparing for mass action in the new academic year.

On top of these attacks, and perhaps the issue that will cause the biggest outcry from classroom teachers, comes the fast-developing threats to public sector pensions. The decision to link pension increases to the lower-rated Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index will already lead to significant losses. But former Labour minister John Hutton is preparing even bigger attacks when his pensions commission makes its initial report in September.
As the motion agreed by the Executive for the TUC Congress reminds Government, “in previous years, when contributions exceeded pensions in payment, it simply kept the money. The Government has had a cheap loan from public sector workers’ contributions but now baulks at paying the pensions that are due”.
The threat of co-ordinated joint union action forced the previous Labour Government to retreat over pensions. The same united challenge can force this Government to think again too – and there should be no doubt that this is what we must urgently prepare. That’s why I spoke up to make sure a phrase suggesting we take action “where necessary” was removed so that the final motion clearly seeks to instruct the TUC General Council to “support and co-ordinate public sector unions in campaigns including co-ordinated industrial action and a national demonstration in defence of pensions”

National Demonstration
We must not accept cuts that will destroy jobs, services - and the economy. A mass national trade-union led demonstration would be a big step towards building the joint strike action needed to really make the government think again. The sight of tens of thousands of trade unionists and community campaigners on the march would also start to lift the confidence of all those workers who are being told that there is ‘no alternative’ but to accept cuts and job losses.
When the effect of those cuts starts to become clear, trade unionists will respond. The big turnout at a Lobby called by Lewisham NUT the night before the NUT Executive - to protest against a £60M cuts package that could slash 1 in 4 council posts - had shown how a mood to take action can quickly be built if a lead is given. The same needs to be repeated nationally.
As I also pointed out at the NUT Executive, the harsh lessons from Ireland have to be learned. By holding back from action, trade unions had encouraged the Irish Government to make bigger and deeper cuts to pay and pensions.
While it is a mistake to rush too far ahead of members, the main danger at the moment is that the TUC is lagging dangerously behind events. A fortnight earlier, I had witnessed the angry disbelief of workplace reps when a SE Region TUC meeting was told of the TUC’s plans to delay any national demonstration until the Spring of 2011! Unfortunately, this is still the position being supported by most of the members of the TUC Public Services Liaison Group, with just an unspecified ‘week of action’ being called around the time of the Public Spending Review on October 20th when the Government reveals more details of its savage cuts plans.
The NUT had been one of the minority of unions, alongside others like the PCS (civil servants) and FBU (firefighters) that had called for a national demonstration in the Autumn. The PCS are concretely proposing Saturday October 23rd as the day for mass demonstrations in England, Scotland and Wales.
I asked whether, if the TUC failed to act, the NUT would organise separately with others like the PCS. NUT General Secretary Christine Blower, made clear that the NUT will continue to push for an earlier date but that, if that failed, she would indeed look to co-ordinate with other unions and campaigns such as the National Pensions Convention in calling an earlier demonstration.

Ballot for National Action
A motion was unanimously passed warning that the attacks we face “represent the greatest challenge to our members for 80 years” – referring to the last time cuts of this were tried – in the ‘Geddes Axe’ of 1922. This was, of course, soon to be followed by the 1926 General Strike!
The motion called for a “mass national week of protest” in October – making clear that we didn’t just want small token protests, but a real mobilisation. It also called for “a coordinated action strategy up to and including national and local strike action”.
These flexible phrases now need to be turned into concrete plans. Importantly, it was also agreed that the September Executive, which is normally a brief meeting to prepare for TUC Congress, will include a proper debate on our strategy for the year ahead.
Despite the unanimous motion, there are of course a range of opinions on the Executive about exactly how far and how fast we can go. I think that delay will invite aggression from the Government. It’s time we showed our strength. That’s why I will be arguing for the policy agreed unanimously at the Lewisham Association meeting – for a ballot for national strike action. A mass national demonstration can be an important step in building for a successful ballot.

The Government has pushed through the Academies Bill at such a speed that it looks likely that, after all, it will be law before September. They have, at least, been forced to concede that schools have to ‘consult’ over any proposals – a limited concession but one that local campaigners must use where they can.
A Lobby of Parliament on Monday July 19th – quickly called to protest against the BSF cuts – will also coincide with the Second Reading of the Academies Bill.

A number of schools have been involved in disputes over workload. For example, a strong 17-1 ballot result in favour of strike at Morningside School in Hackney is putting pressure on the school to accept an agreement that would enforce some real workload limits and make “Work-Life Balance” more of a reality.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Lobby Tells Lewisham Mayor to Fight the Cuts

100 trade unionists and community campaigners gathered on the steps of Lewisham Town Hall on July 14th to join a lobby called by Lewisham NUT to protest against a proposed £60M cuts package being discussed by the Labour Mayor and Cabinet.

NUT “Education Cuts Never Heal” placards were displayed alongside UNITE and UCU banners. GMB, UNISON, ATL, NASUWT and PCS members also took part. Staff from the libraries service, threatened with five closures, and Lewisham Education, facing immediate job cuts, were well represented. Campaigners protesting about cuts to disability care also spoke alongside trade unionists.

The size and depth of the proposed cuts is unprecedented. One in four council jobs could go, wrecking the local economy and job prospects for young people.

The message was clear from all the speakers – that we weren’t going to meekly accept these cuts forced on us to pay for the debts racked up by reckless speculators. Calls for co-ordinated national strike action were cheered. Demands for the Labour councillors to refuse to make these cuts but to join with us in opposing the Government’s attacks were also applauded.

Unfortunately, it seems that Steve Bullock, the Labour Mayor wasn’t listening. He told protestors to ‘get real’ before muttering obscenities at hecklers.

Perhaps Sir Steve had been rattled by the size of the turnout at a protest that had only been organised at short notice. It certainly showed that there is a growing mood to fight these cuts and will have helped to raise the confidence of workers who, up to now, have only been told that there is no alternative to hundreds of job losses. It is the Mayor who needs to recognise the reality that cuts of this size must – and will – be opposed by trade unions and local communities.

In chairing the Lobby, I made clear that this protest was only just the start. The NUT was committed to bringing together trade unions and community campaigns to defend jobs and services. When the Mayor returns to decide these cuts in November, he can expect a mass lobby and march that will only be even bigger, louder and more determined than tonight’s protest.

Martin Powell-Davies

Monday 12 July 2010

NUT Education Conference - an international struggle

Delegates at the NUT's National Education Conference at Stoke Rochford Hall discussed a whole range of pressures facing teachers and education.

The last session heard from a speaker from the National Education Association of America explain how teachers in the US were facing the same attacks of merit pay, blaming and sacking teachers and privatisation through 'Charter Schools'. To the surprise of some who may still have cherished illusions in the US President, these attacks were being led by the Obama administration.

The speaker summed up his remarks by saying that "the future of public education in the world depends on teacher unions standing up". That's the responsibility that we have on our shoulders - and one that we have to live up to.

For more on the battle to defend public education in the US, read the article posted at

Sunday 4 July 2010

Call for national action against Academies and Cuts

JUST HOW POOR do they think our memories are? This Government wants the public to believe that it is the ‘excesses’ of overpaid public sector workers, with our ‘gold-plated’ pensions, that are to blame for the debt crisis.

But that’s just not true. Do they think that we have forgotten that it was the reckless gambling by greedy financiers that led to this crisis? Or that it was the unprecedented multi-billion pound bailout of these banks that created these state deficits?

Our pay and pensions are not to blame. After all, despite the pay campaign that included national teachers’ strike action in 2008, recent pay awards have really been pay cuts. Teachers will still get a 2.3% pay award in September but inflation stands at over 5%. Then the Tories tell us we’ll get a two-year pay freeze from 2011-13. In real terms, that’s at least a 10% cut.

Public sector pensions were reviewed as recently as 2005. The Government and unions agreed changes that protected the retirement age for existing teachers but increased our contribution rates too. That was supposed to ensure the scheme was fully budgeted for.

Now the Government have set up a new Public Services Pensions Commission that is due to make its first report in September. It’s clear that this is going to be used to mount a huge attack on our living standards and pension provisions.

If that wasn’t enough, Osborne’s Budget announced 25% cuts in Whitehall spending over the next five years. The Comprehensive Spending Review in October will spell out where those cuts will fall. However, local councils are already warning of big cuts and job losses to come.

This is no surprise to the Government. A leaked Treasury document confirms they expect over half a million public sector jobs to be lost by 2015, plus even more in the private sector.

But these huge cuts won’t even save the economy as Ministers pretend - they’ll wreck it. Countries like Ireland - where pensions and pay have already been cut - show that the economy and deficits will just get worse, not better.

This Government is really just using the recession as an excuse - to help their friends by cutting corporation tax while they attack the rest of us. It’s also their excuse to attack both our national conditions and our public services through Academies, Free Schools and other privatisation plans. We must not fall for their lies