Winning at work on safety: Fran's story

Fran King describes how acting collectively led to a successful safety campaign during the pandemic.


My school is a very tight community. We care deeply for the children and support each other.

Many staff, although members of a union, have never previously felt the need to act collectively. However, when I hosted my first-ever, well attended, member’s Zoom meeting last spring, we all realised that we had collective concerns and we were only going to achieve change together.

Colleagues who didn’t feel comfortable approaching management individually, felt empowered to express their safety concerns as a group where individual anonymity was guaranteed. As a result of that meeting, I sent a collective letter to our head outlining our safety demands.

It has been a rocky path to achieve what we wanted. There have been many setbacks; emails not even acknowledged, demands dismissed, union consultation over June’s risk assessment denied.

At times, I thought that we would never win and I couldn’t see a way forward. Now, we are in a very different position. I didn’t give up, I kept meeting my members, I continued to send numerous emails, I was supported by my brilliant district secretary and other local reps. I also recruited an amazing co-rep, worked with the GMB, held joint GMB/NEU meetings and let our head know we were working collaboratively.

In July, my head agreed to formally negotiate September’s risk assessment with the NEU and GMB. The wearing of face coverings was allowed (this had been the main sticking point, our head had continually said they were banned from the site, which contradicted local authority policy.)

Other suggestions were taken on board and the risk assessment amended to reflect them. When I completed the NEU checklist, I identified that there weren’t lidded bins in every classroom. Within hours of receiving the checklist, our head went out and bought all the bins, bringing them back in her own car.

Since then, I have been asked to consult with members over a couple of changes, thanked when I put up social distancing posters in the staff toilets and when I voiced concerns over the sharing of a disabled toilet between bubbles, they were listened to (it no longer happens.)

Through collaboration on many levels, my school is a safer place.

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