Teachers’ strike: Fife Council rejects intimidation claim after letter backlash
The local authority had been accused of “intimidating strike-breaking tactics” after warning teachers covering for colleagues in future strike action may result in disciplinary action.
The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association and the NASUWT trade union are set to strike this week.
The EIS and AHDS unions have signalled to its members that they must not provide cover for striking colleagues, prompting Fife Council to write to teachers explaining it expects teachers to follow “a reasonable instruction” to provide cover.
But the letter sent sparked a fierce backlash. It fell short of threatening disciplinary action, but implied that could be taken over future strikes.
It stated: “It should be noted that Fife Council will not necessarily refrain from formal action against any employee breaching their employment contract in relation to any subsequent industrial action and does reserve the right to reconsider its position on this matter before further strike action planned for January 2023.”
Andrea Bradley, EIS General Secretary, hit out: “It is shameful that, rather than seeking to resolve the current pay dispute through negotiation, some aggressive Scottish local authorities are resorting to intimidatory strike-breaking tactics that are reminiscent of the Thatcher-era UK government.”
The council has now moved to turn down the temperature ahead of this week’s strike with a potential 16 days of industrial action coming its way from the EIS at the start of the year in pursuit of its pay claim.
Councillor David Ross, leader of the Labour minority administration, said: “No-one should be forced to carry out the work of a colleague who is taking strike action, and it’s especially unreasonable where colleagues are also involved in the same dispute for a fair pay deal for teachers and have the right to show solidarity.
“Talk of disciplinary action is both unhelpful and unacceptable. We recognise that no-one takes the decision to go on strike lightly.”
He added: “All efforts need to be focussed on delivering a fair pay deal for teachers in Fife and across Scotland, and for all other public sector workers. It needed to be made clear that no disciplinary action was to be taken against any employees refusing to provide cover for colleagues who are taking industrial action.”
Carrie Lindsay, the council’s executive director of education and children's services, said the local authority “fully supports the rights of our staff to take lawful industrial action, and the positive relationships we have with our trade unions are very important to us.”She added: "It is the case that we can consider where it is reasonable to ask staff to cover the duties of others who are on strike, provided that this is in accordance with their terms and conditions of employment.
“However, we also fully understand the challenges faced by staff who are not taking part in the strike, and we wrote to all staff explaining no action will be taken against staff who choose not to cover classes for striking colleagues on Thursday.
“Our letter was issued in support of the guidance staff had received from their trade unions.
"Our intention was to ensure that our teachers knew that we were not intending to take this action.”