The first support staff conference of the National Education Union (NEU) since the NUT and ATL officially and fully merged has voted to send a radical, bold motion on pay for school support staff to the NEU’s annual conference next April.
The motion (5 October) calls for the union:
• to pursue standard national pay, terms and conditions for support staff
• to launch a campaign for support staff to get an across-the-board £3 per hour pay rise (equivalent to about a £5000 per year increase full-time)
• and to initiate a specific Living Wage campaign to win the Living Wage Foundation rates (£9/hr and £10.55/hr in London) for the lowest paid school workers.
Many (perhaps most) contracted-out cleaners and catering staff are paid no more than the legal minimum wage.
The motion was prioritised above an alternative motion by about a 2:1 majority.
The other motion called for legally protected anonymity for support staff facing abuse allegations (a right which teachers already have). There was nothing wrong with that motion, but it only called for “further lobbying” of Government, MPs etc. by the Executive.
The Executive is already doing and doesn’t need an annual conference decision in order to redouble its efforts.
There was a left/right split in the support staff conference, and a clear majority for sending a bold, ambitious and, if necessary, contentious motion to annual conference.
Earlier in the day, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney spoke to the conference and set out the welcome objective of “one union for all education workers.” He said that there could be a number of ways to get to one union, not just building from the NEU now, but seeking mergers and realignments with other education unions.
Courtney said that the NEU currently has about 30,000 support staff members (estimated as about 3% of the total support staff workforce). He said that the NEU needs to be talking very publicly about its support staff members, including the support the union can provide to us as well as our involvement in disputes. He also said that the NEU should respect the TUC agreement that stops it from actively recruiting support staff.
In a lively Q&A, delegates challenged Courtney on the issue of support staff pay and the lack of inclusiveness for support staff at NEU conference.
The conference also featured Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and discussion sessions. The sessions were useful and interesting. However, should so much time at a one-day conference be given over to training sessions?
Some of them were on industrial issues in schools – such as redundancies and restructuring – but most were the kind of training that schools and local authorities should be providing for staff during their work time.