The Independent is reporting that teachers at one of Michael Gove’s flagship free schools are staging a series of walkouts from Thursday over what they see as an attempt to introduce “zero-hour” contracts at their school…
The action, to be taken at the STEM Academy Tech City in Islington, north London – is the first strike action of its kind at any of the country’s 174 free schools…
Teachers at the school asked to be balloted by their union, the National Union of Teachers, after their employers said there would be “legal consequences” if they failed to sign a new contract before Christmas.
Included in it was a paragraph which stated: “The school reserves the right to temporarily lay you off from work without normal contractual pay or to reduce your normal working hours and reduce your pay proportionately. The school will give you as much notice as it can reasonably give of its need to take such action.”
Union leaders argue this is tantamount to a zero-hours contract and have expressed fears that other schools might follow suit in trying to introduce similar clauses unless the move by STEM Academy is resisted.
Amongst other items in the contract that the union opposes are a limit of three weeks paid sick leave per year, and the statutory minimum maternity leave entitlement.
The union will stage its first strike on Thursday, to be followed by two days of strike action next week and three days the following week. It says the school has also refused to grant it union recognition.
…John O’Shea, principal of the STEM 6 Academy, said the union’s interpretation of the contract was “inaccurate”, adding: “The contracts offered are not ‘zero hours’ as had been suggested but permanent contracts. The contract also makes clear that additional sick leave is available if necessary beyond three weeks in a year.
“As a new school we do not have any reserves to draw on in case of unexpected costs and the governing body has been prudent to ensure our long term financial viability and sustainability. With this in mind, our employment contracts have been drawn up appropriately to safeguard the school’s finances as well as tax-payers’ money.”
He added: “We take seriously all feedback we receive from members of our staff relating to employment conditions and have been very keen to understand any recent concerns around employment contracts,”
The academy had agreed to look into all the points that had been raised.
Your thoughts on the issues raised by this dispute? Is it prudent for the school to match employment contracts with its own financial constraints or would you be concerned if other schools started to go down a similar route? Please share in the comments or via Twitter…