By Pat Murphy, Secretary Leeds NUT
Some 10,000 school staff in Leeds are to be balloted for strike action in protest at compulsory redundancies in the city. The four main unions organising teachers and support staff, the NUT, NASUWT, GMB and UNISON are involved. If we win the ballot, there is likely to be a one-day strike which will shut down the vast majority of Leeds schools.
Around 50 teachers and 60 support staff face the threat of compulsory redundancy this term. About half of those are in schools with falling rolls and budget shortfalls. Most of the rest are in five schools due to close in August. There are also a small number on temporary contracts whose jobs were saved by NUT action last year. And this at a time when there is a shortage of teachers and a workforce reform agenda that will require a lot more support staff.
This is the second year that Leeds schools have faced redundancies. Last year 30 teachers and about 50 support staff jobs were under threat. Then only the NUT decided to ballot for action, and 82% of our members voted "yes" to a one-day strike. The Local Education Authority (LEA) backed down and agreed to continue the employment of all teachers still under threat to avoid a strike. The NUT campaign laid down an important marker in the defence of jobs in the city. It galvanised the other unions to organise their own resistance next time.
Early this school year the NUT proposed to the other unions that we establish a joint action group to fight redundancies. The group has been meeting and planning since October 2003.
Throughout the year we have been jointly campaigning, negotiating with schools and the LEA, and ensuring that efforts to redeploy staff and avoid redundancies are much more serious and urgent than last year.
It has always been clear, though, that the policy of the joint action group is that, should redundancies still be threatened this term, we would each seek to ballot members for strike action. Recently all four unions gained the support of their National Executives for that course of action.
If the ballot is successful action will take place in the week beginning 28 June, probably on Thursday 1 July. The City Council and Education Leeds have agreed to hold talks with regional and national officials.
It is important to us that those talks avoid any compulsory redundancies. Other council employees at risk of redundancy have a 12 month period in which their employment is continued, allowing extra time for redeployment. The employers have resisted extending this to school staff as expensive and "not cost-effective". We have argued strongly that it cannot be "cost effective" to sack workers.
The campaign in Leeds carries a vital message for members across the country. Trade union unity clearly puts all workers in a much stronger position to defend all of our members.
It isn't built, though, at the speed of the slowest. On the contrary it was the willingness of the NUT locally to risk "going it alone" last year that injected new strength and confidence into the other unions. Leeds is not the only place where school staff are facing redundancies this year, and we need to see a unified fight to defend jobs spread across the country.