Teaching unions condemn new strike restrictions

Teaching unions have condemned new legislation that will require them to have the support of 40 per cent of their total membership before they can take industrial action.

The requirement is set out in the Trade Union Bill, announced today, alongside a new rule that requires a 50 per cent turnout in ballots for industrial action.

It would impose a four-month time limit for industrial action after a successful ballot and introduce “greater scrutiny and controls” on “facility time”, in which trade union representatives are given time during paid working hours to carry out trade union duties. It would also repeal a ban on the use of agency workers to cover for staff on strike.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said the bill was “yet another instance of the government putting ideology ahead of the rights of working people”.

She said allowing schools to use agency workers to cover for colleagues on strike would “risk inflaming workplace disputes” and raise practical concerns about making sure agency staff had criminal record checks carried out in time.

She added that restricting facility time would be a “false economy” because trade union representatives helped schools to save money by improving health and safety, minimising the turnover of teachers and reducing conflict at work.

A statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that in the current system “a small minority of trade union members can fundamentally disrupt the lives of millions of commuters, parents, workers and employers at short notice – without clear support.”

Employment minister Nick Boles said: “People have the right to expect that services on which they and their families rely are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes that have the support of only a small proportion of union members.”

A consultation will seek views on the 40 per cent threshold, the repeal of the ban on agency staff and some other proposed measures. The consultation has been launched today and will run until September.

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