Trade Union Bill could increase ‘whispering campaigns’ against non-striking teachers, union warns

Non-striking teachers could be subject to “whispering campaigns” and “unfriendly body language” in the staffroom if the Trade Union Bill goes ahead, a teaching union has warned.

Voice believes that “subtle intimidation”, including “aloofness” and verbal taunts, will increase if stricter rules to tackle “explicit intimidation” are approved.

The union – whose members never strike – expressed its concerns as hundreds of union members were due to rally against the bill today ahead of its third reading tomorrow.

Ian Toone, Voice’s director of policy and research, argued that while the bill could reduce physical attempts to stop staff crossing picket lines, more subtle behaviours could escalate.

“Striking colleagues may feel that they are left with no other recourse to vent their feelings,” he writes in a submission to the Public Bill Committee on the Trade Union Bill.

He adds: “While much of this may be seen as ‘low level’ in comparison with the more extreme cases reported in the media, it is, nevertheless, insidious and undermines professional relationships while, at the same time, being very difficult to manage.”

‘Insidious, subtle intimidation’

According to Voice, more than half of its members have either witnessed or been subject to intimidation of non-striking staff by striking colleagues. The union says that the majority experience it in the staffroom or on social media, but it can also happen on the picket line.

“In the education sector, the real threat derives more from insidious, subtle intimidation, which is difficult to legislate against and which could be exacerbated by too heavy-handed an approach towards more explicit attempts at intimidation,” Mr Toone writes.

In the bill, the government has proposed more regulation for picketing – such as the introduction of a picket supervisor who will wear a badge or armband, oversee the process and keep the police updated on arrangements. The measures are proposed in a bid to tackle intimidation of non-striking workers.

But the two biggest teaching unions, the NUT and NASUWT, both argue that that there is no real evidence of intimidation and therefore the additional rules proposed are unnecessary. The NASUWT, which gave evidence during the committee stage, writes in its submission: “The government has provided no evidence of picketing which threatens the safety of workers or public order.”

The NUT accuses the government of not being “even handed” in its approach. The union’s submission says: “The government has not set out what measures will be put in place to protect those workers identified on a picket line and the picket supervisor from victimisation and/or being blacklisted by employers.”

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