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Unions threaten teacher strikes and exam result delays

Colin Hughes, CEO of AQA, has some major negotiation to do with unions this summer
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Pupils across the UK could face delays in receiving ​their GCSE and A-Level results if exam board AQA fails to improve its pay offer to staff, UNISON​ warned today. A ballot for strike action is in place. Is the big teacher strike next?

  • The ballot opened on Monday 13 June and runs until Monday 27 June. AQA staff have already voted to take action in an earlier consultative ballot. If they vote ‘yes’ again, strike action will take place at the height of the exam marking period ​in July.
  • AQA staff are based in two offices in Guildford and Manchester.​
  • AQA has told its workforce that it will consider ​using fire and rehire tactics to force ​through the changes.
  • In a recent survey of AQA staff, a quarter (27%) say they ​are unable to pay ​their household bills and 18% are looking for ​second jobs just to make ends meet. More than a third (36%) are ​either considering​ or have already taken out loans just to cover basic household expenses, while one in eight (12%) are skipping meals because they can’t afford to eat.
  • The NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union will ballot members for national industrial action if the Government does not deliver pay restoration for teachers.
  • To prevent an unprecedented retention crisis and protect the future of education, the NASUWT believes teachers must receive a 12% pay award this year.

​Around 160 AQA staff, who arrange the setting and marking of exam papers and issue results, are being balloted for strike action after years of below-inflation ​wage rises, UNISON reported.

Last year the workforce received a “paltry” 0.6% pay increase, said the union, which is UK’s largest with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Rejected offers

The AQA workers have already rejected a 3% ​offer, which ​the employer was only prepared to pay if the unions (UNISON and Unite) agreed to bring wage talks to an end.

Staff are calling for an increase that keeps pace with the rising cost of living and which makes up for the many years that their pay fell way short of inflation.

Talks to try to resolve the dispute have already taken place at the conciliation service ACAS. But UNISON said AQA “failed to bring anything new to the table​.”

Senior managers at the exam board have also angered workers by ​asking them to sign new contracts, which includes the low pay rise UNISON has rejected. ​

AQA has told its workforce that it will consider ​using fire and rehire tactics to force ​through the changes.

Which students will be affected?

Pupils sitting GCSE English and maths papers would be among those affected by any delays in results if ​the strikes go ahead, said UNISON.

One ​AQA worker said: “This is the first time ​staff have ever done anything like this. Many of us have done our jobs for a long time and are dedicated to public service.”​

”Exam board employees work miracles silently in the background to ensure results are issued on time year after year. But ​we’ve reached the point where enough is enough​.

AQA worker

Another said: “AQA ​says social mobility is at the heart of its charitable purpose. However, it’s content to watch its loyal, long-serving employees fall further and further behind on pay to the point where some of us are struggling to survive. AQA is most definitely failing when it comes to staff pay.”

UNISON North West regional organiser Lizanne Devonport said: “AQA is ​letting down not just its staff ​but pupils ​too by holding down pay.

“Rather than using its cash reserves to help ​employees cope with the spiralling cost of living, it’s provoked an unprecedented strike ballot.

“No one wants to cause disruption to students and teachers in the first summer back in exam halls since the pandemic, but ​the employees ​feel like they’ve been left with no choice. AQA must come back to the negotiating table​, make a serious offer ​and stop threatening its dedicated staff.”

Teacher strikes are on the cards if 12% pay rise not met

The NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union will ballot members for national industrial action if the Government does not deliver pay restoration for teachers.
 
The Union will ballot members in England, Wales and Scotland for industrial action in November should the teachers’ pay award for 2022/23 fall short of demands. 
 
“After 12 years of pay erosion, teachers are now facing the biggest squeeze on their living standards for half a century,” said the Union.
 
The argument for pay in line with inflation is reflected in daily items and costs, including energy bills which have alone shot up by 54%, but the value of teachers’ pay has slumped by 20%.

Now two in three teachers are being forced consider how much longer they can afford to remain in the profession

NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union 

To prevent an unprecedented retention crisis and protect the future of education, the NASUWT believes teachers must receive a 12% pay award this year.
  
NASUWT members from across the UK took part in the largest demonstration of working people in a decade yesterday, marching for a better deal for teachers as part of a national cost of living rally in Central London.
 
“The country faces an existential emergency for the future of the teaching profession,” said Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary. 
 
He continued: “Teachers are suffering, not only from the cost of living crisis, which the whole country is grappling with but 12 years of real-terms pay cuts which have left a 20% shortfall in the value of their salaries. 
 
“If the Government and the pay review body reject a positive programme of restorative pay awards for teachers, then we will be asking our members whether they are prepared to take national industrial action in response.
 
“The Government wrongly assumed teachers would simply stand by as they erode pay and strip our education system to the bone. But this weekend thousands of teachers, from every corner of the UK, joined together to demonstrate our strength, unity and determination to stand up and to fight back. 
 
“Our message is clear and has now been delivered directly to the Government on their doorstep. We will not allow cuts to our members’ pay and attacks on their pensions. If a pay rise is not awarded, it will be won by our members in workplaces through industrial action.”

Role of agency supply workers during teacher strike action

Supply teachers could be in even higher demand if a teacher strike takes place in the UK later this year. Agency staff will have an easier path to fill the gap now that the government has allotted for more strikes across different sectors and will allow employers to hire agency staff in times of industrial action, as previously reported here.

The Freelance Informer reached out to supply teacher agencies but did not receive responses at the time of going to press. One agency, School House Recruitment, turned down an opportunity to speak about how they would cope should industrial action take place.

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