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UK teaching unions threaten strikes in the autumn

The UK’s main education unions threaten strikes this fall if the government doesn’t agree to an inflation-cutting 12 percent pay rise for their members.

The National Education Union and the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union made demands on Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, citing the rising cost of living and the impact of a decade of real-world cuts to teachers’ salaries.

The strike threat is sparking a clash with Boris Johnson’s conservative government, which is trying to contain public sector wage demands as aggregate CPI inflation hit 9.1 percent on Wednesday, with double-digit increases for fuel and many staples.

The NEU, in a letter to Zahawi on Wednesday, set out its rationale behind its demand for an 11.7 percent increase, stating that the figure matched current retail price inflation (RPI), which it believes is a better measure of the price. price of goods in stores .

It added that the pay increase was essential to cope with a sharp rise in the number of vacancies for teachers in secondary schools and to arrest the large number of staff who leave the profession within five years of their qualification.

Line chart of teachers' average wages as a percentage of the average weekly wages across the economy, showing that teachers' wages have fallen in relative terms

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint secretaries-general of the NEU, said they would vote members for strike action without “sufficient action” from the government and “strongly encouraged” them to vote in favour.

“You have to respond to the new economic reality of double-digit inflation and the threat it poses to teachers’ living standards. We call on you to commit to an increase in inflation plus for all teachers,” they wrote.

The question comes two days after the NASUWT called for a 12 percent pay increase this year, warning that the profession faced an “existential emergency” after 12 years of real pay cuts that saw the value of salaries plummet by 20 percent. shrunk in real terms.

“We will not allow cuts in our members’ pay and attacks on their pensions,” said Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary. “If a raise is not awarded, it will be won by our members in the workplace through union action.”

Unions have said the combination of eroded wages and increased workloads is responsible for a rise in teacher job vacancies and early retirement from the profession, undermining government efforts to increase the workforce.

“One in four teachers left after three years, one in three by the end of five,” Bousted and Courtney wrote to Zahawi. “You can’t afford to turn away from these numbers and the reality behind them.”

Both unions have said they will await the government’s response to the School Teachers’ Review Body’s payout recommendations, which are expected at the end of the school year.

The government has proposed a 3 percent increase in evidence to the body, but unions said this predates the recent rise in inflation. The recommendations of the STRB are not binding on ministers.

Zahawi said the government would consider the independent payment agency’s recommendations, but warned that strikes would hurt the chances of students who have already suffered learning loss during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have proposed the highest rewards in a generation for new teachers – 16.7 percent over the next two years – alongside further rewards for more experienced teachers and leaders.

“Young people have suffered more from their education than any generation, and it is the vital work of teachers that helps them get back on track. The last thing I — or any parent for that matter — want to see is something that would risk undoing that progress,” he said.

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