Teachers' union backs regional pay battle
- 9 April 2012
- From the section Education & Family
One of the biggest teaching unions has voted to join other unions to challenge any government attempts to introduce regional pay for UK public sector workers.
At its annual conference in Torquay, the National Union of Teachers voted to ballot for strike action if any firm plans are brought in.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has asked the body which advises ministers on teachers' pay to look at the issue.
Officials say any changes are distant.
Over the Easter weekend, the NUT and the other big teaching union - the NASUWT - backed plans to escalate their campaigns on pension cuts and pay and changes such as the government's academies and free school programme in England.
Strikes are likely next term and in the autumn, with teaching unions aiming to join other unions in national protests.
The issue of regional pay was first raised by Chancellor George Osborne, prompting widescale criticism from public sector unions.
Teachers, like many other public sector workers in the UK, have nationally agreed rates of pay, so that teachers on a similar grade in different parts of the country earn roughly the same, although those teaching in London earn more through "London weighting".
The chancellor suggested public sector workers could be paid a rate which was in line with local levels, saying this might stimulate the private sector.
In Torquay, NUT delegates agreed its leaders should put a resolution or amendment to the TUC's conference this autumn to develop "maximum unity against any measures to introduce local pay and attacks on pensions".
NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said the union believed that teaching was a national profession and should have national pay rates.
"Pay rates in different parts of the country would be very bad for the economy," he said.
"This is about our preparation for a campaign if the government does go down this route."
On the conference floor, delegate Gawain Little, from Oxfordshire, said: "This government has a strategy, a strategy to drive down pay, undermine our terms and conditions and to break up our education system.
"The move to impose localised pay is a necessary step towards the fragmentation and privatisation of our education system. As such it is inextricably linked to the assault on our pensions, the aggressive promotion of academies and free schools and the dismantling of local authorities."
The NUT represents teachers in England and Wales, but says it will work with other teaching and non-teaching unions around the UK to fight the introduction of regional pay.
Mr Gove has written to the body which advises the government on teachers' salaries in England and Wales - the School Teachers Review Body (STRB).
In his letter, from late February, he asked for advice on "how to make pay more market-facing for teachers" in local areas.
He also asked what other reforms should be made "to pay and conditions ..to raise the status of the profession and best support the recruitment and retention of high quality teachers in all schools".
Like many other public sector workers, teachers have a two-year pay freeze.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said talk of industrial action was "premature".
"We're approaching this in an open-minded way and are well off putting forward any concrete proposals," he said.
"It's a bit overblown to threaten 'mass resistance' when no union knows what it is actually resisting.
"The national pay scales remain in place. We've asked the independent expert pay review body to look at all the evidence for and against making pay better reflect local job markets - as the private sector does."
The STRB will report back in September.
Later on Monday, the NUT backed calls for a national campaign including strike action against further academy conversions and new free schools in England.
More than half of England's secondary schools are now academies or in the process of becoming academies.
Academies are state-funded but outside of local authority control and their governing bodies are free to set pay and conditions.
The NUT also called on the Labour party to commit to bringing academies and free schools back under council control.
It says the policies are fragmenting the state school system and threaten to destabilise existing schools by drawing pupils and money away from them.
The government says the schools give freedom to head teachers and that this will raise standards.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Academies are improving faster than other state-funded schools and enjoy freedoms that enable them to innovate and raise standards."