Great Britain

Educators and public-sector workers slapped in the face once again

ONCE again, in the last week of term for most schools in the country, the government released the recommendation of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB).

Unsurprisingly, it recommended a pay freeze for all qualified teachers and a flat £250 increase on the unqualified instructor rate.

This is a slap in the face for educators who, like other key workers in the public and private sector, have risked their lives throughout the pandemic to keep our schools, colleges and communities going.

It also shows how little this government values education. Our members, and the children they teach, deserve better.

Of course, it is not just teachers who have faced this insult, with NHS staff being offered a meagre 3 per cent in place of the 15 per cent they are owed, and the rest of the public sector being subjected to the same pay freeze as teachers.

This includes support staff in schools and colleges, who are on scandalously low rates of pay and many of whom faced the added outrage of being engaged on term-time-only contracts — education professionals when it suits their employer and treated with a total lack of professional respect the moment the students have left for the holidays.

There are those who will try to divide the public and private sector and say that public-sector workers should face pay cuts because of the threats to the stability of the private sector.

There are those who will argue that the public sector has to take a hit in response to the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic. Leave aside for a moment that most of this was the direct result of the wrong decisions being taken by an economically illiterate government.

If our government truly wanted to get the economy back on track, it would invest in recovery. Instead, we have the lowest investment in educational recovery of any major economy – just £1.5 billion.

Cutting public-sector pay will make this worse. The fact is that we know public-sector pay cuts have a knock-on effect across the economy, reducing public spending and leading to pay cuts and job losses in the private sector.

We have a choice: either invest in our country and rebuild our economy or watch round after round of austerity, pay cuts and job losses.

As a movement, we need to respond to these threats with robust action. We need urgent discussion among public-sector unions about taking united action to smash the pay freeze.

We need a broader campaign in which public- and private-sector unions stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against the continuation of austerity, and to establish a proactive fight for investment in our public services, our economy and our communities, in order to rebuild Britain as we begin to emerge from this terrible pandemic.

We also need to strengthen the anti-austerity movement around the People’s Assembly, linking our workplace struggle with struggle in our communities, on the streets.

We need to build the movement against the wave of unemployment, homelessness and low pay that will undoubtedly follow if the course set by this current government is not reversed.

However, we also need to change the way that teachers’ pay is set. Since our collective bargaining rights were removed in 1987, we have faced the farce of a supposedly independent review body appointed by government.

Every year, we watch the same pantomime. Government sets a remit for the STRB around January, unions and others make submissions and the STRB considers these, with a report due in May or June.

Each year, the government delays releasing the STRB report which coincidentally takes us to the end of term. The report is then slipped out as the holidays begin and, amazingly, always seems to simply reiterate the original remit.

Take this year for example, when the Secretary of State wrote: “We will not be seeking a recommendation from STRB for pay uplifts in 2021/22 for the majority of teachers” and went on to suggest a £250 flat increase for those on the lowest (unqualified) pay grade. Sound familiar?

It does make you wonder what the point is of unions producing submissions to this “independent” body, only to have them ignored year on year.

Ultimately, we need a return to collective bargaining, and a national contract for all education workers, in order to make pay determination meaningful.

This will only be achieved by developing a clear strategy now, based on building workplace strength and delivering national action, in order to win such a change.

The time for talking is over. Now is the time to build a movement that can win.

Gawain Little is a primary school teacher and sits on the NEU executive.

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