If you find yourself in the position of facing strike action by some or all of your staff, this NEU advice will help you give proper consideration to closing the school or college and in seeking to resolve the matters in dispute.
Should the school be closed?
If some or all members of trade unions are on strike, consideration must be given to whether or not to close the school. Health and safety considerations must be an important factor in the decision.
The decision to open, partially open or close an LA maintained school is for the head teacher. The decision for academies rests with the academy trust, but is usually delegated to the head teacher or principal.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the employer in a school is legally required to take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and pupils are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. As the head teacher or principal, you should undertake a risk assessment which takes into account the impact of staff taking strike action and make a judgement as to whether it is safe to open the school to pupils and/or staff on that day. Matters for consideration would include issues such as safe supervision of students, safe evacuation of workplaces in case of emergency etc, taking account of the impact of staff taking strike action. Remember all unions represented at the school are entitled to request to see the risk assessment. The onus is on you to justify the decision that a school should remain open when a significant proportion of staff including in particular those responsible for premises and student supervision are absent.
Remember the legal duty is for you to be informed of the numbers of strikers not the names. NEU advice is that you should not exacerbate the situation by asking for names.
Covering the work of striking staff
Non-striking staff will inevitably refuse to undertake work that would normally be done by colleagues who are on strike. Non-striking staff should not be moved from the duties they would normally carry out or otherwise expected to undertake the work of striking colleagues in order to frustrate the impact of industrial action. They should not be pressured to provide cover on health and safety grounds to avoid closure of a workplace as these actions can easily inflame the situation.
Employers can use agency workers to provide cover during an official strike. A change in the regulations means that employers can replace striking staff with agency workers. The NEU alongside ten other unions have launched a judicial review of this change as we believe it is unlawful.
Not all work can be covered in this way, for example if a role requires certain training, experience or qualifications.
By law, Devolved Welsh Authorities cannot hire agency workers to cover for strikes. It's against the Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017.
It should be expected and is perfectly lawful for picket lines to form outside the entrances and exits to the site.
If you have any issues regarding the picket these should be raised with your NEU Regional Wales Secretaries.
Resolving the dispute
Taking strike action is always a last resort and shows the strength of feeling amongst your staff. If the situation has deteriorated to the extent that strike action is a possibility or is taking place the only way to resolve the matter in dispute is to continue with genuine negotiations and you might want to highlight the strength of feeling amongst your staff to your governing body when discussing how to resolve the situation.
If you believe it would be helpful, you may consider involving ACAS to facilitate talks.