Strike action at school
Strike action at school can always be a controversial subject. Teachers and support staff at your school might be about to go on strike and you might be unsure of what to do.
In this article, we answer frequently asked questions about striking, what your entitlements are and provide definitions for different terminology.
I’m not taking part in strike action what should I do?
If you intend to work on the day of a strike, you should inform your head teacher and/or line manager in writing before a strike commences and make it clear that you are available for work.
If my colleagues are striking, what am I legally expected to do?
Once your head teacher has an idea of the number of staff members on strike, a decision will be made as to whether the school will be kept open. Heads will conduct a proper risk assessment and a decision will be based as to whether the health, safety and satisfactory education of pupils can be guaranteed in the absence of the teachers taking strike action.
If my school is staying open, what do I do?
On the day of a strike you will be expected to carry out your normal duties. You may also be directed to undertake some extra duties, but such a request must be reasonable. A request will be unreasonable if it potentially places the health and safety of either pupils or staff at risk.
Do I have to cover larger classes?
The school can ask you to cover for teachers taking industrial action, but they cannot force you to do this if your terms of employment are governed by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).
The situation may be different if this is not the case. The class size limit of 30 for infant classes (under age 7) does not apply to activities normally done in larger groups (e.g. assemblies, sports activities); so the school may decide to run these activities on the day of strike action. However, the school must always ensure that they provide adequate safeguards to protect the health and safety of both pupils and staff.
What if my school closes as a result of strike action? Will I still be paid?
If you have provided advance notice in writing to your head teacher that you will not be involved in upcoming strike action and are prepared to work in accordance with your terms and conditions of employment, then you should still be paid. A refusal to pay you when you are willing to work would constitute a breach on the part of the school.
What can I say if my colleagues ask me to strike with them?
The decision to strike is a personal one. If you are in a trade union, you do not have to take part in strike action if you do not want to, even if a majority of union members voted in favour. Your union cannot discipline you for this. If you are disciplined for not taking action or for crossing a picket line, you can complain to an employment tribunal within three months of the disciplinary action.
What should I do if I feel I am bullied as a result of not striking?
Every teacher or employee must be safeguarded against bullying and harassment in the workplace. If you experience bullying as a result of your decision not to strike (or for any reason at all), you should report this to your head teacher or line manager so that action can be taken to protect you from this in future. Your head teacher will be obliged to investigate such a claim thoroughly, and take prompt action to eliminate such behaviour in future.
What will be the impact on my salary and pension?
If you do not attend work as a result of organised strike action, you will be deemed to be in breach of contract and will lose a day’s pay for each day of strike action. If you take part in strike action, this will also impact upon your continuous service and the contributions you make to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. If you take part in strike action for a day or more, this time will not be reckonable for pension purposes. Each day of strike may also affect any future redundancy calculations.
What does action short of a strike mean?
Essentially it means, actions such as refusing to work over time, such as not attending staff meetings or just doing the minimum requirements of your role.
If you are a member of a trade union and they have required you to take action short of a strike, in some circumstances the head teacher may be entitled to send you home and notify you of an intention to make a deduction in your wages.
It can be difficult to establish a breach of contract in this situation, particularly if you often undertake duties outside of your job description and willingly work overtime from time to time. However, if you refuse to undertake duties set out in your contract, this will certainly result in a breach of contract and will warrant a deduction in your pay.
Strike action at school: dismissal
You should not be dismissed for industrial action if:
- It is as a result of a properly organised ballot
- It is about a trade dispute between workers and their employer
- A detailed notice about the industrial action is provided to the employer at least 7 days in advance of the intended action
If however, you are dismissed at any stage within the first 12 weeks of the action, you will be eligible to lodge a claim for unfair dismissal with the employment tribunal (this must be done within 3 months of the date your employment was terminated). After 12 weeks of industrial action however, you can be dismissed if your employer has tried to settle the dispute.
What is industrial action?
Industrial action may be in two forms:
- Action short of strike action (such as working to rule)
- Strike action (the planned stoppage of work)
A trade union can only call for industrial action if a majority of its members vote in favour of action in a properly organised ballot.
Strike action at school: what is a picket line?
In order for picketing to be legal, it must be peaceful. Union members may also only picket at or near their own place of work, for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information or persuading others to abstain from working. The Government’s Code of Practice on Picketing provides further guidance, including restricting the number of people on a picket line to 6.
Members of a picket are allowed to ‘peacefully persuade’ workers and others (eg: suppliers) not to cross the picket line, but anyone who decides to do so, must be allowed to. It is a criminal offence for pickets to use threatening or abusive language of behaviour to people crossing the picket line, or to block people/vehicles going into the workplace.
It is important to note that any unlawful picketing results in a trade union losing its immunity against legal action. In the unlikely event that you are prevented from crossing the picket line or are intimidated by the behaviour of those on strike, you should immediately contact your head teacher in order to ask for assistance and further instruction.
In order to be paid on a day of industrial action, you must cross the picket line and perform your duties, unless other arrangements have been made with your head teacher. Failure to do so will be taken as a breach of contract and result in a deduction in your wages.
The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance regarding industrial action in school.
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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
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