Labour will battle minimum service level laws designed to keep schools open during strikes in parliament today as industrial action by teachers this week will cause misery for parents.
More than 23,000 schools will be affected by walkouts as around 100,000 teachers plan to strike this Wednesday after they demanded an inflation-busting pay rise.
Later today the Labour Party will introduce a series of amendments to effectively block the law currently going through parliament that would introduce a mandatory minimum service levels across six key areas, including education.
An amendment proposed by Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner would force Business Secretary Grant Shapps to publish a thorough impact assessment on how the legislation would impact on workforce numbers, individual workers, before any new rules came into effect.
An amendment to the minimum service levels bill proposed by Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner (pictured) would force Business Secretary Grant Shapps to publish a thorough impact assessment on how the legislation would impact on workforce numbers
Ms Rayner said: ‘Grant Shapps’ (pictured) ludicrous claims that his ‘sacking nurses Bill’ has the international seal of approval are collapsing around his ears’
The proposed laws will also impose minimum service levels on the health, fire and rescue, and transport services as well as nuclear decommissioning and border security.
As teaching strikes loom this week, headteachers are working on contingency plans which include putting pupils in ‘giant classes’ or reintroducing online classes as seen during the pandemic.
The NEU has announced seven days of strikes in England and Wales in February and March.
Labour and unions have attacked the minimum service level laws, saying the legislation is being rushed through.
Ms Rayner said: ‘Grant Shapps’ ludicrous claims that his “sacking nurses Bill” has the international seal of approval are collapsing around his ears.’
Labour said ministers have admitted the Government has had no contact with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) about the Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Bill, which is being debated in Parliament today.
Last-ditch talks will be held today in a bid to resolve a teachers’ pay dispute which threatens disruption to schools across the country.
Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in England and Wales will walk out on Wednesday, with more stoppages planned in the coming weeks.
Union leaders will meet Education Secretary Gillian Keegan after previous talks failed to break the deadlock.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘This is the last chance to avoid the strike on Wednesday.
‘However, on Friday the Department for Education failed to meet the deadline to its evidence to the teachers’ pay review body.
‘We can only assume this is because they know that their recommended increase for teachers’ pay will not be acceptable to our members and will contradict the evidence they must have put in about teacher recruitment and retention difficulties.
‘That said, we hope the Secretary of State will bring forward concrete proposals to end this dispute and avert the strike action.’
A source close to the Education Secretary said she will use the meeting to reiterate her call from the weekend for teachers to inform schools if they plan to strike.
The source also said the Government will ‘continue to be open and collaborative in meetings with the unions’.
Dr Mary Bousted (pictured) and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: ‘We have continually raised our concerns with successive education secretaries about teacher and support staff pay and its funding in schools and colleges, but instead of seeking to resolve the issue they have sat on their hands
Teacher members of the union in sixth form colleges in England, who have already been balloted and taken strike action in recent months, will also take action on these days in a separate but linked dispute.
Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: ‘We have continually raised our concerns with successive education secretaries about teacher and support staff pay and its funding in schools and colleges, but instead of seeking to resolve the issue they have sat on their hands.
‘It is disappointing that the Government prefers to talk about yet more draconian anti-strike legislation, rather than work with us to address the causes of strike action.
‘This is not about a pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts. Teachers have lost 23% in real-terms since 2010, and support staff 27% over the same period.
‘The average 5% pay rise for teachers this year is some 7% behind inflation. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, that is an unsustainable situation.
‘Teachers are leaving in droves, a third gone within five years of qualifying. This is a scandalous waste of talent and taxpayers’ money, yet the Government seems unbothered about the conditions they are allowing schools and colleges to slide into.
‘The Government must know there is going to have to be a correction on teacher pay. They must realise that school support staff need a pay rise.’
Wednesday, involving members of the NEU, Aslef, Rail, Maritime and Transport union, University and College union, Public and Commercial Service union, Unite and the IWGB, will see the biggest day of strikes since 2011 when a national day of action was held by public sector unions over pensions.
The Labour Deputy Leader added Ms Rayner added: ‘Fresh from ministers being publicly called out by the ILO director general and the US labour secretary, we learn they have failed to make any contact at all with the UN agency charged with protecting employment rights about this Bill.
‘The Business Secretary has been hiding behind warped and wilful misunderstandings of the International Labour Organisation’s code in his desperate attempts to justify this shoddy, unworkable and vindictive piece of legislation while failing to even pick up the phone.
‘It’s another abject failure of due diligence by Grant Shapps.’
Last week, while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, ILO director general Gilbert Houngbo reportedly expressed concern about the Government’s plans.
Trade Union Congress general secretary Paul Nowak said: ‘The Government is trying to keep MPs in the dark about the draconian nature of this Bill.
‘But make no mistake – this legislation will give ministers sweeping new powers to restrict the right to strike.
‘The Government must not be allowed to duck scrutiny. This spiteful legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.
‘The Minimum Service Levels Bill is undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal, and crucially it will likely poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them.
‘It is shameful that parliamentarians are being forced to vote blindly on such far-reaching new laws. We urge MPs from all parties to vote against this nasty Bill.’
Striking teachers and supporters hold a rally on The Mound in support of their claims on January 25 in Edinburgh
Parent group Us For Them warned that the strikes will badly hit Year 11 pupils taking their GCSE exams this summer – after they lost 111 days in school during pandemic lockdowns.
‘A few more days off school here and there may appear innocuous, but we are not in a normal educational environment – the repeated school closures have meant that one in four children is now persistently absent from school,’ Arabella Skinner, from the group said, the Telegraph reports.
MPs will spend up to six hours considering the remaining stages of the Bill on Monday.
More than 50 pages of amendments have been tabled for the Bill’s committee stage, including an SNP bid to rename it the ‘Anti-Strikes (Forced Working) Bill’.
There are attempts by opposition MPs to ensure minimum service levels are reached by negotiation with trade unions, to curb the Secretary of State’s powers and ensure any future changes are made via an act of Parliament and to stop the legislation applying to Scotland and Wales.
The SNP has tabled an amendment to prevent employers from requiring a minimum service level if ‘the employer has not previously been able to maintain such a level on days not affected by strike action’.
Labour also wants to remove the six sectors, including health and transport, named in the Bill to which the minimum service level requirement would apply.
The Government is expected to have the numbers to defeat any amendments it does not like before the Bill goes through the report stage, where further amendments can be tabled, and its third reading.
If approved at its third reading, the Bill will progress to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.
It is scheduled to be debated at a second reading by peers on February 21.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘We must keep the public safe, which is why we are introducing minimum service and safety levels across a range of sectors to ensure that lives and livelihoods are not lost.’
The Government will publish an impact assessment of the legislation ‘in due course’.