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Attempt to break deadlock in industrial action dispute ignored, say education unions

An attempt by education unions involved in the industrial action dispute over pay and funding to break the current deadlock and move forward with talks with the government has been ignored.

Talks between the unions and government have stalled due to the government’s insistence that strike action by NEU must be cancelled before they will continue negotiations.

On Monday 6th March, NEU, NAHT, NASUWT and ASCL wrote to the Secretary of State to suggest that a day of conciliation talks could be convened by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

However, as the unions have yet to receive a formal reply to the letter, they can only conclude that the failure to reply to such a reasonable and urgent request means it has been declined.

The unions continue to appeal to the government to begin meaningful talks in order to move forward in resolving the dispute.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Using ACAS to create a safe environment between parties in order to begin movement is a well-trodden path in industrial relations. The success rate at ACAS is impressive. It is extraordinary for any party to a dispute to refuse such an offer. I am really worried that the government are not serious about finding ways through these difficulties. I hope for the sake of children the government can see beyond political posturing and join us all around a table.”

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries of NEU, said: “This was a serious offer from the NEU and the other unions to engage in talks and look for a settlement of the dispute. We want to resolve this dispute in the interests of our members and the pupils they teach. The Secretary of State has a duty to engage in negotiation. She must begin to exercise that duty.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Unfortunately, the government appears to be more interested in playing political games than bringing forward a meaningful offer to improve pay and conditions and end the industrial dispute. The fact that the government has ignored our proposal to bring in ACAS reinforces that impression.”

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said: “According to the Secretary of State, the Government’s commitment to engage in proper negotiations has been agreed at the highest levels by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. So, we have to question why, after a number of weeks, progress has still not been made in convening the negotiations we have been promised. The patience of our members is running out. We have said that we are ready and willing to talk any time, any place, anywhere. Ministers now need to demonstrate that they are also ready to engage to resolve this dispute.”

The full letter can be read here: https://neu.org.uk/sites/default/files/2023-03/060323%20-%20Joint%20union%20letter%20to%20Gillian%20Keegan_0.pdf

First published 08 March 2023
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