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January 31, 2014 / politicsbitesize

Academy’s Zero Hours Contract

StrikeActionIn September 2013, the new STEM 6 Academy in Islington opened its doors to students aged 16-18.  The multi-million pound specialist education establishment in north London is one of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s flagship free schools, but it has recently been facing strike action from staff.  Teachers at the school were to stage a walk out on Thursday of this week after they were forced to sign new contracts that threatened to introduce zero hours working conditions.

Just before Christmas, teachers at the school were told that would face ‘legal consequences’ if they did not sign the new contract.  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.’

Ten of the teachers at the school are NUT members and they asked to be balloted by their union because they considered the wording in the new contract tantamount to asking them sign up to zero working hours.  As a result, over a week ago the NUT served notice of Thursday’s one-day strike to STEM 6 governors.  According to Unite the Resistance, the union threatened to follow this up with ‘two days of action on the Wednesday and Thursday of the following week (5 and 6 February) and a further three strikes the following week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11, 12 and 13 February’.

Despite originally refusing to meet with the union, the management and governors of STEM 6 Academy agreed to recognise the NUT’s demands for collective bargaining and to enter into meaningful negotiations about terms and conditions at the school.  This eleventh hour development means that teachers at the school have suspended strike action in order to allow talks to take place.

The proposed strike action at STEM 6 was the first of its kind in the Education Secretary’s new and ‘improved’ academies and free schools. This attempt to introduce zero hours contracts underlines the widely held belief that these institutions are to be run as businesses who put profit margins over and above the welfare of staff and students.  The fact that the unions have managed to secure negotiations with the management is a crucial first step in not allowing this to happen.  Instead, staff in academies and free schools should enjoy the same terms and conditions as their colleagues in maintained schools.

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