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Why GMB members will be striking in Academies on 10th July, but not UNISON

GMBNext Thursday’s strike on 10th July looks set to be well supported, based upon the feedback I am getting as a GMB branch secretary. People are at the end of their tether, facing rising living costs, and pay packets that have shrunk in real terms. Local authority pay has gone up only 1% since 2010 and in October even the national minimum wage will overtake local authority pay scales. These hard working, caring people are bearing the brunt of an economic crisis that they did not cause.

Calling a national strike across the public sector is an enormous achievement, and it is extremely difficult for trade unions to communicate with members across thousands of different work places, not all of whom are covered by shop stewards or functioning branch structures.

What many members don’t appreciate is the enormous administrative effort, where the staff and officers of the unions have had to ensure that all membership records are up to date, that all the lists of employers and their contact details are correct; and that all the notifications are sent on time to the employers. Running such a huge strike without giving the employers a pretext for a legal challenge is a huge achievement in its own right. This is particularly the case in the education sector, where there is a very confusing mix of governance and administrative arrangements. GMB staff and officers have done a brilliant job.

Surprisingly, UNISON have decided not to ballot their members in academies, although GMB has. Rather disingenuously, UNISON has sent the following to members:

We have had a number of queries from UNISON members in Academies regarding the Industrial Action on 10th July 2014 which unfortunately does not include Academy members. The reason for this is not of UNISON’s making. A recent test case that UNISON opposed, established that the old practice whereby after TUPE the cost of living pay award agreed nationally automatically applied for the new employer was not lawful if that new employer was not directly covered by the pay negotiations.

This meant that Academy staff across the country are no longer covered by the national pay negotiations. This legal finding was unexpected and has therefore left this years ballot in a bit of a hiatus.

If we included you and your colleagues in the industrial action on 10/7/14 it would put you at risk because it would be unlawful industrial action because the national pay dispute is with the National Joint Council (NJC). The NJC does not cover your employer so as a result of the recent test case the dispute does not include Academies. If we had balloted Academy staff it would have made the national ballot unlawful leaving it open to challenge by local authorities like NCC.

As a result, in schools up and down the country GMB members will be on strike, while their UNISON colleagues are not; and the frankly alarmist communication from UNISON seems calculated to disquiet GMB members who are lawfully striking.

Let us be absolutely clear. UNISON seems to be suggesting that GMB members involved in the dispute might not be covered by the protections offered to employees who take lawful industrial action.

This is categorically wrong.

GMB has followed all relevant legislation to the letter and I am assured that the union is fully satisfied that all members called out on strike in academies will be protected as a result.

In order to comply with the legislation, GMB have had to fulfil a number of requirements, including notifying the employer of the dispute, notifying the employer of the intention to ballot, and finally notifying the employer of the ballot result and the day of action. This has been done for all academies who continue to follow the terms and conditions as set out by the National Joint Council for Local Government Employees (NJC).

A small number of academies have queried this process. When these concerns have been raised GMB has examined the validity of their claims with regards to non-application of the NJC. In a small number of cases this has led to the academy being removed from the ballot and the members in question being informed of the decision.

As a result of this, for any GMB member in an academy who has been balloted, (and who has not subsequently received a letter from the GMB stating that they have been removed from the dispute), the strike is on and the union is asking them to respect the overwhelming yes vote for strike action, and GMB is asking them not to work on Thursday 10th July. This will send a clear message to the government and the employers that another year of below inflation pay rises is not acceptable.

Should any of their colleagues wish to take part in the dispute, they can join GMB prior to the 10th, and they will then also receive full legal protection as a member of a trade union engaged in a legitimate trade dispute.

3 Comments

  1. Jonny says:

    It’s always good to see solidarity in public with activists from other unions not criticising brothers and sisters in other unions. But apparently that’s not important to Andy Newman.

    Andy says “A small number of academies have queried this process. When these concerns have been raised GMB has examined the validity of their claims with regards to non-application of the NJC. In a small number of cases this has led to the academy being removed from the ballot and the members in question being informed of the decision.”

    He goes on to say some GMB members have had letters from their union saying they were incorrectly included in the ballot.

    So he IS admitting GMB got in wrong in some cases. In the spirit that Andy has adopted of having all of this out in the open would he care to elaborate on what proportion of GMB members in academies were balloted incorrectly. Then we can all see what the truth is.

    Or is this just another one of Andy’s knee-jerk attacks?

    Academies aside, GMB members in councils (and council run schools) will be standing alongside UNITE and UNISON members in their fight for a decent pay rise. It’s so sad that Andy prefers to attack another union rather than focus on working alongside sister unions. He rather ironically runs a website called “Socialist Unity” when he appears not to know how to build unity.

  2. Jack says:

    1% is an insult. Good luck to the strikers next week

  3. Andy Newman says:

    I understand that UNISON HQ are now challenging that such a notification has been sent out. However, GMB shop stewards in two different Wiltshire schools have seen this UNISON communication, and contacted me with their concerns about it.

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