Workers at Charlton Park Academy in south east London struck on Tuesday against management attacks on their sick pay.
Strikers are furious that workers on newer contracts now receive less sick pay – and that head teacher Mark Dale-Emberton didn’t inform them of the change.
Teacher and NEU member Annette told Socialist Worker, “The head changed the terms and conditions for new people without telling us. We only found out when one member of staff was off sick and after a certain time discovered she wasn’t receiving sick pay.
“Then he offered us £15 a month to go to moneysupermarket and buy insurance there instead.”
Strikers said the changes mean that some workers receive six months’ full sick pay and then six months’ half pay. Yet others get just one month full pay and one month half pay.
The school is a special needs school where teachers and support staff work with challenging children. They explained that staff are more at risk of being assaulted and injured.
Learning support assistants Bel and Karen have worked at the school for years. They aren’t affected by the new contracts, but were out on strike and on the picket line.
“We want to have a voice,” said Bel. “There are people who switched jobs in the school and were put on the new contract. They didn’t realise they were entitled to less sick pay.
“Surely if we get injured we need to get sick pay? And we work with a lot of children with compromised immune systems. We are constantly picking up bugs.”
Strikers pointed to other issues at the school that are affecting children’s education – and potentially putting them at more risk.
Karen added, “We always seem to be short staffed. There are lots of agency workers but they aren’t offering permanent jobs.”
Annette agreed. “We have more than 20 agency staff working here at any one time,” she said. “And more than five classes don’t have a qualified teacher in them. They say it’s because of budgets.”
David, a GMB rep, is an unqualified teacher at the school. “I’m doing the job of a teacher but I get paid less,” he explained. “The head promised me teacher training, but nothing’s happened.”
Many strikers said the changes were linked to the school becoming an academy. “Academies have got carte blanche to do whatever they want,” said Bel. “Public schools should not be academies.
“It seems like public sector workers’ rights are being rolled over everywhere. It’s always working class people who get shat on.”
We always seem to be short staffed. There are lots of agency workers but they aren’t offering permanent jobs.
One initial proposal said staff facing disciplinary issues who said they suffered depression, anxiety or stress may not receive sick pay. It wasn’t consulted on – workers just happened across it on the school’s website.
“I’ve been off sick with stress,” said Annette. “I feel like the head is now saying, maybe I wasn’t really sick. It’s insulting.”
There was a steady stream of hoots from passing vehicles as strikers gathered outside the school. They are winning support and are confident that their action can get results.
Tony is a teaching assistant and GMB rep who’s been at the school for 16 years. He explained that after previous talks at the Acas conciliation service, the head had declared that the strike could “go on for years”.
But now he has agreed to more talks on Monday. Workers plan further walkouts on Thursday of next week and Tuesday 21 November if there is no agreement.
Tony said, “We could get sick at any time. I had a cancer scare four weeks ago. It was all clear, but if it hadn’t been I would’ve been on long term sick.
“We need to be treated all the same – we’re all doing the same job.”