Rishi Sunak to step in with new law to stop school strike mayhem
New law to stop school strike mayhem: Rishi Sunak is ready to step in to ban unions from leaving parents in limbo and force teachers to tell heads who is planning to join walkouts
- Teachers joined picket lines as part of the National Education Union strike
- ‘Walkout Wednesday’ also included strikes from civil servants and train drivers
Teachers could be forced to tell schools they are planning to strike to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s nationwide disruption.
Ministers are urgently examining whether to tighten the law to close a loophole that prevents headteachers from knowing which staff are taking part in industrial action.
Tens of thousands of teachers who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) left their posts and joined picket lines yesterday.
In a general strike in all but name – dubbed ‘Walkout Wednesday’ – they joined 100,000 civil servants, 70,000 university staff and thousands of train drivers and Border Force officers in staging industrial action.
The strikes caused misery for parents, many of whom were left in limbo after the union encouraged teachers to refuse to tell heads in advance whether they would turn up for work.
Teachers, pictured at a rally in Whitehall yesterday, could be forced to tell schools they are planning to strike to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s nationwide disruption
Tens of thousands of teachers who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) left their posts and joined picket lines yesterday
It meant some schools were forced to close unnecessarily, disrupting their pupils’ education and forcing parents to take unpaid leave or pay for extra childcare.
Rishi Sunak is said to have been ‘incredulous’ that militant unions are able to disrupt contingency plans by refusing to provide basic information on which teachers are going on strike.
The walkouts disrupted more than 80 per cent of secondary schools yesterday. In other developments:
- The British Museum was forced to close after workers went on strike;
- Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Aslef rail union, threatened a ten-day walkout in a bid to flout a proposed law requiring a minimum level of service during strikes.
Rishi Sunak, pictured during Prime Minister’s Questions on February 1, is said to have been ‘incredulous’ that militant unions are able to disrupt contingency plans
Union members and supporters march along Whitehall during a day of national strikes on February 1
The NEU told members to ‘ignore’ requests from headteachers in the run-up to the strike. On its website, the union warned heads: ‘Individual NEU members do not have to tell their employer which union they are a member of, or whether or not they personally intend to take part in strike action. You can’t ask staff to tell you or sign a form.’
A government source pointed out that French law requires striking teachers to give schools 48 hours’ notice if they intend to walk out, to enable heads to make contingency plans.
The source added: ‘It is ridiculous that unions are able to add to the disruption caused by refusing to provide the basic information needed to make contingency plans. If this is something that is going to become a regular tactic then we will have to act on it.’
The Prime Minister’s spokesman noted that the new Minimum Service Levels Bill will give ministers the power to require unions to provide a certain level of staff on strike days.
The legislation is due to apply initially to fire, ambulance and rail services. Ministers had hoped to reach a voluntary agreement with teaching unions, but the PM’s spokesman said the issue was being kept ‘under review’ in the light of yesterday’s tactics.
Attacking Sir Keir at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mr Sunak said: ‘He can’t stand up to his union bosses, he can’t stand up for Britain’s school children today, and he can’t stand up for the women in his party.’
But the Labour leader – who failed to raise the crippling walkouts during PMQs – said it was ‘rank pathetic’ to blame his party for failing to sort out the strikes.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, sent a message of support to striking teachers, saying the ‘way in which you’ve been treated is nothing short of a disgrace’. More than 20 Labour MPs joined picket lines.