Michael “Scrooge” Gove gives a ‘turkey’ to Head Teachers

19 December 2012 By Roger Jeary Roger Jeary responds to news that Education Secretary Michael Gove has sent a letter to Head Teachers encouraging them to cut the wages of teachers involved in industrial action

Commentary icon19 Dec 2012|Comment

19 December 2012

By Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary responds to news that Education Secretary Michael Gove has sent a letter to Head Teachers encouraging them to cut the wages of teachers involved in industrial action

I suspect that most of you like me thought that taking money out of the wages of a worker without their permission was illegal. Of course we all knew about the statutory exceptions and we probably realised that if we didn’t turn up for work the employer probably wouldn’t pay us. What did come as a surprise to me, and apparently to Head Teachers of schools across the country, was that according to the Secretary of State for Education where somebody operates a work to rule process the employer is legally justified to deduct money from their wages.

Like most legal issues this is not as straight forward as it may seem. In other words most lawyers will start to answer this point with the words “..it depends…”. I am not a lawyer so I will give a personal, non-legal view and invite lawyers reading this to comment.

Let me start with my understanding of a work to rule. I thought that this would normally mean working to the conditions of your contract of employment. Anybody doing this I am pretty sure would have a strong legal case against their employer if unauthorised deductions were made from their pay. Of course there is likely to be a debate about what is included in the contract of employment and that may well vary from workplace to workplace even in the education sector. The law covering unauthorised deductions from wages in the Employment Rights Act 1996 Sections 13 – 27 does contain a reference to circumstances where a deduction can be made without permission and these include where a worker has taken part in a strike or other industrial action ERA 1996 S 14(5).

I can imagine the extent of discussions that will take place should a Head Teacher decide to take the advice of Mr Gove. What may have started as a work to rule could at worst be escalated or at least seriously undermine the working relationship in that school. Of course Mr Gove doesn’t care about that, he is not the one that has to recover the goodwill upon which most schools operate through voluntary contributions from teachers to the overall operation of the school in the interests of the pupils. Such action will almost certainly be challenged in the courts, again creating more work for lawyers but doing little to address the legitimate concerns of workers.

Mr Gove is of course known for his dislike of trade unions unless they happen to agree with him and there seems little chance of that on his current record. But this advice out of the blue, three months into a dispute, is not about resolution it is about confrontation and upping the ante in the hope that this will draw public support to the cost of teachers. Coming as it does just prior to the Christmas holidays it seems to me that the SoS has delivered an unwelcome present to Head Teachers and fired another shot across the bows of public sector workers and their trade unions. Given the complexities and uncertainties of the limited protections from unauthorised deductions from pay which the government has now raised maybe the answer is simple – forget working to rule and simply withdraw labour altogether.

Bah Humbug!

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Roger Jeary

Roger Jeary Roger Jeary retired from Unite in January 2012 after 33 year’s service as a negotiating officer and Director of Research. Roger worked in Northern Ireland, Manchester and London as an official of the union starting with ASTMS and then MSF and AMICUS before the final merger to Unite. In 2004 he was appointed Director of Research of Amicus and subsequently took on that role for Unite in 2007. Roger is a member of the Institute’s Publications Sub Committee. Currently Roger is a Trustee Director of FairPensions, an independent member of the ACAS Panel of Arbitrators, sits on the Advisory Panel of the IPA and is a member of the Manufacturing Policy Panel of the Institute of Engineering & Technology (IET).