Page 36 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Union merger ballot
– questions & answers
ISM: ATL has prided itself on a thriving section speci cally for independent schools, complete with a dedicated national of cer. Will any new merged union maintain a similar sector focus?
MB: Yes, the new union would have a strong independent sector strand.
While ATL membership in independent schools is more
than double that of the NUT,
the NUT has thousands of members working in independent schools, and if the two unions combine our membership in the independent sector would swell to around 30,000. This would signi cantly strengthen our members’ voice in many schools and colleges and make us even more dominant in the sector. It would enhance members’ ability to in uence the decisions that matter most – decisions taken by their employer that directly affect their daily working lives and the success of their students.
ATL members have led the way in the sector and I am con dent that this would continue. Our members believe in robust but constructive dialogue with independent sector employers. The new union would continue to champion this approach.
Being the pre-eminent union in the sector, ATL’s offer is second to none. As you say, we have
a thriving independent sector with, amongst other things, an independent sector advisory group - IPSAG, an independent schools conference, sector newsletter, bespoke sector guidance and dedicated staf ng.
All of which we have ensured would continue and be secured in the new union’s constitution.
We have also ensured further protection of ATL’s broad membership, including the
independent sector. While
all members have an equal opportunity to play their part
in forming the unions’ policy,
we acknowledge that there can sometimes be a natural bias
in the branches towards the
state sector by dint of numbers. Therefore, the new constitution makes provision to ensure that our sections including the independent sector, support staff, leadership and further education, would always have a voice.
In addition to the rights that
all members have to take part in their union’s decision- making process, the new union’s constitution guarantees independent sector members, as a minimum, a seat on the new union’s executive, six annual conference reps, plus reserved seats in local districts.
And, just to be clear, the National Education Union (NEU) would be a new union – it is not a merger. NEU would take the best of both unions to provide our members with enhanced support, resources and in uence.
NUT General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, has said “When I
was NUT Branch Secretary in Camden, I represented members in independent schools on many occasions. It’s vital the new union understands the different pressures on members in independent schools and
can effectively represent them. Independent school teachers would have a valued and valuable part in the new union.”
ISM: ATL has a reputation for being more moderate than the NUT. Members did not join last year’s NUT strikes, for instance. It may be that independent school staff chose ATL because of that moderate reputation. Can you reassure them that the merger
with the larger NUT will not result in a less moderate organisation? Do you foresee Voice bene tting from your merger?
MB: There have been differences in the positioning of members
of the two unions in certain circumstances but the areas that we have in common outweigh any differences. I understand some members’ concerns that they are more likely to be called on to
take industrial action but I am con dent that I can reassure them.
ATL members always consider incredibly carefully before
taking any form of industrial action, and only take action as
a last resort. This approach was foremost in the minds of ATL’s negotiators when we discussed rules around industrial action with our NUT counterparts. We were keen to ensure that in the exceptional cases where members might consider such action, that it is warranted, has widespread support and would be effective.
In giving this sentiment substance, the new union rules have a higher bar than at present for either union: a requirement that an indicative ballot must  rst be undertaken to establish signi cant support before any de nitive vote on industrial action.
It is also important to remember that members can only take part in a legitimate trade dispute if
it directly affects their terms and conditions. If you work
in an independent school, the dispute would be with your employer. It would be you and your colleagues at school who take any such decision. No-one else. And nor could you be asked, for instance, to act in sympathy with colleagues working in an academy down the road.
Lastly, the new union rules
enshrine the right of any individual member not to take part in any collective action
and to suffer no detriment from choosing not to take part.
However, the time when ATL members across the independent sector took industrial action, it was in 2011 when, together with colleagues in the NUT, we went on strike to keep independent school teachers in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. This is a perfect example of when collective action is warranted and effective. It is also a graphic illustration
of ATL members successfully working together with NUT colleagues.
Both unions already
provide excellent individual representation to members when they need it and often work closely to secure new recognition agreements in the sector.
ISM: At what level will the annual subscription rates be set? Current standard rates for quali ed full-time teachers vary between £177 for the NUT and £206 for ATL.
MB: This prosaic question is important for many members. It is something that we have given a lot of thought to. We currently offer competitive subscription rates that vary according to whether you are a teacher,
part of the leadership team, or member of the support team and by the number of hours that you work.
The new union would have a guarantee that members would not pay a higher subscription
rate than they would ordinarily at the point of amalgamation.
Thereafter, subscription rates would be assessed as before. There is always a tension between wanting to provide the
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