By Tracy McGuire
I’ve just been elected to the support-staff place on the Executive of the National Education Union, in a by-election.
My first priority is unionising as many school support staff as possible into the NEU.
Especially with the election, there are going to be cuts to schools and job losses for support staff.
We need campaigns. We need more support-staff reps, and not just as reps for support staff.
At present the NEU has a support staff conference, but it is entitled only to put one motion to the national union conference. [The system was inherited from the ATL, the union that merged with the NUT to form NEU. The 2019 conference was 5 October].
That’s not right, is it? At the support staff conference, there was just 45 minutes allocated to discussing motions to conference — and much of the rest was CPD [training] sessions and the like — but that discussion needs to be the focus of the day.
I’ve been contacted by the NEU support-staff organiser [the allocated full-time official at NEU HQ], and he’s asked to meet with me before the next meeting of the NEU support staff council on 11 January.
The support staff council members are elected by the NEU regions. It meets three times a year. I’m not clear about its powers, but it looks to me as if it needs to have more power and more accountability to the members.
I hope to do reports from the Executive and circulate them as widely. In the past left-wing Executive members in other unions where the working of the Executive are opaque, such as Unison, have done that.
There are also regional support staff conferences. There’s one for the North-East in Newcastle on 7 March. I think that as the support staff rep on the union Executive, I should be going to all those conferences, and have a say in organising them.
In my opinion, support staff gravitate towards the NEU in workplaces where there is an active rep, so having more active reps is central.
As far as I can tell, the majority of support staff who have joined the NEU are teaching assistants. In my school, the caretakers and cleaners are coming into NEU, because they see the union being active.
The union has to make itself accessible. In our school, it’s difficult for caretakers and catering staff to come to our regular union meetings, because of the different hours they work, so I’ve approached our head teacher to ask for a different time to be set aside for union meeting with them.
We need a charter for support staff which meets the concerns of the different sections of support staff — admin workers, catering staff, IT staff, too.
Everyone should be on a Living Wage, at least. The union should argue for catering, cleaning, and so on to be brought in-house where they’ve been contracted out. We want a national contract for all education workers, not just for teachers.
For the NEU to win recruitment rights, organising rights, and bargaining rights for support staff is central here.