This NEU advice to branches has been prepared in furtherance of the NEU conference decision that the union should support lay officers on “building bargaining/negotiating relationships with supply agencies”.
Branches are asked to consider how best to take this issue forward, preferably in conjunction with supply members co- ordinated by a branch supply member officer. Branches can approach regional/Wales bargaining senior regional officers to discuss matters if they wish.
Branches are advised to refer, for background and context, to the NEU’s Alternatives to Agencies (A2A) toolkit published in 2020. This sets out the NEU strategy for seeking to support supply members and secure better employment terms through a combination of work at national and local level involving Government, local authorities, other employers (eg academy trusts) and individual schools as well as agencies.
The agency framework – a brief reminder
Most supply members secure their work via agencies but are not employed either by the agency or by the school or other workplace in which they work.
The legal status of supply members is that of a ‘worker’ rather than an employee. They are not subject to national or local employment arrangements eg STPCD, Burgundy Book or local agreements1 and, in particular. pay rates generally fail to reflect the pay rates they would receive in regular employment. Engagements can be intermittent and can be cancelled without notice or compensation. The requirement to pay ‘transfer fees’ to agencies often deters schools from offering agency supply staff permanent employment.
The NEU has no collective bargaining arrangements or formal agreements with any agencies at national or local level.
The NEU conference resolution asks the NEU nationally to support branches in seeking to begin a process of engagement with agencies. This does not mean that the NEU is now endorsing the agency model of supply staffing. We continue
to work at national level for a national register-based system to replace agencies and for other alternatives to agencies including regional co-operative schemes, employer-organised pools and more direct employment. This work will continue alongside the proposed work at local level to engage with agencies and seek to improve the terms they offer while they remain involved in supply staff provision in education.
Consulting and involving supply members
It goes without saying that work on supply issues will be much more successful if it includes the involvement of supply members themselves. Discussion with local supply members will help identify local opportunities for engagement and local issues and priorities, and also identify opportunities for involving them directly, including in the capacity of supply member officer.
The NEU national executive strongly encourages all NEU branches and districts to have, as part of their committees, a supply member officer (SO). SOs play an important role both in working to involve supply members in local union activity (on supply issues and on other issues) and in promoting awareness and activity on supply issues locally. SOs can be central in taking forward the work proposed, as can the regional members of the NEU’s national supply organising forum (OF) who can offer their support in seeking to co-ordinate activity across district and branch areas.
The NEU nationally has recently put out a call to supply members encouraging them to come forward as supply officers. If you don’t currently have a supply officer, please consider approaching your supply members directly. Detailed training is available as part of the national training programme. Ideally the supply officer should be a supply educator but another member could initially be appointed with the aim of seeking to involve more supply members. One of these might then be willing to take over the role.
Local secretaries and other lay officers should seek to be well-informed. If you don’t feel sufficiently informed, you could contact the regional OF members and regional office/NEU Cymru about the training module specifically on Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) issues as they affect supply members.
Establishing contact and leverage with agencies
As noted above, local supply members are best able to help identify local opportunities for engagement with agencies. These may be agencies where there is a prospect of positive engagement or alternatively ones where practices most need challenging.
There may be local issues and priorities with specific agencies – whether these are pay, pensions, support to workers or other issues. Ask members about the issues identified in the section on principal issues likely to arise and ask them to identify others.
Principal negotiating points
The matters which can be raised with agencies include the following:
- rates of pay overall
- appropriate pay differentiation, eg previous pay scale position, experience, additional qualifications
- CPD and other training offered
- contribution to workplace pension
Support to staff
- clarity on responsibilities including on the nature of the role offered (teacher, classroom support, cover supervision)
- clarity on support expected from schools
- compensation for cancelled engagements
- transparency on the rates charged to schools and paid to staff
- compliance with requirements and good practice on documentation such as key information documents (KID) and terms of engagement (TOE).
- compliance with, and transparency on, Agency Workers Regulations entitlements
- non-use of guaranteed work/ guaranteed pay contracts
- absence of requirements to sign up with umbrella companies as a condition of being offered work
- avoidance of transfer fees for roles that become permanent
- where part of the CCS procurement framework, engagement with employers only in accordance with the terms of the framework
The NEU’s Charter for Supply Members identifies a range of other matters which branches can raise with agencies, or with schools and other employers using supply staff, or both.
Principal negotiating points in more detail
Rates of pay
Branches could seek to explore the level of payments and the system for graduating or differentiating payments – in particular, whether and how pay is increased for more experienced staff or those with relevant qualifications. The NEU’s annual supply member pay survey gives an indication
of the level and variation in payments nationally. Input from supply members employed locally will be essential in supporting any work to seek better and fairer pay arrangements.
CPD and pensions
Continuing professional development (CPD) provided by agencies is variable and while it is sometimes free, it sometimes requires staff to turn down work in order to participate. Good practice would include free access to quality CPD without losing pay to attend.
Workplace pension contributions vary significantly between agencies. The NEU’s annual survey also gives an indication of better levels of payment.
Support to staff
The NEU Charter sets out a range of expectations on schools, including on information for supply staff prior to arrival, which agencies could themselves set as expectations.
This would include ensuring clarity on the nature of the post offered – and also ensuring that work is not misrepresented or offered on inappropriate terms, in particular teaching work described as supervision.
Provision for compensation for late cancellations which deny the opportunity to accept other engagements would also be welcomed by many supply staff.
Transparency on charges
This is a key part of the DfE’s ‘procurement framework’ system under which many agencies operate but it is good practice for all.
Compliance with documentation requirements
More information on ‘key information document’ requirements for agency workers can be found here. Agencies should be compliant in providing these. This could be included in local communications with supply members who could be advised to contact the agency but also let the union know locally.
Transparency on, and compliance with, AWR
Many agencies still fail to notify staff when they have acquired rights under AWR, including to parity pay, after 12 weeks or incorporated arrangements into their payroll systems which identify automatically when this happens. It is reasonable to ask agencies how they support staff and schools to ensure compliance with AWR provisions; and also to confirm that they no longer seek to use guaranteed work/guaranteed pay contracts.
Training on AWR rights generally, including to support casework and help identify cases, is being provided at regional level as an ongoing part of the NEU’s training programme for lay officers.
Many agencies continue to seek to insist for their own convenience that members use the services of an umbrella payroll company. Given that this has many disadvantages in addition to cost, the NEU wants all agencies to use the same payroll service for supply staff as they use for the agency’s employees, paying supply staff on a PAYE basis.
Other steps to support supply members
The Alternatives to Agencies Toolkit also contains advice on the following issues which can be taken forward by NEU branches and districts, and in particular their supply member officers, as part of local activity:
- informing and reminding local supply members of their rights
- drawing supply members’ attention to NEU guidance on negotiating a better daily rate with agencies (aimed in particular at members less able to secure work directly with schools)
- drawing their attention to NEU guidance on seeking direct engagements paid directly by schools, cutting out the agency intermediary
Initial action points
- Encourage members to become supply member officers (SOs).
- Encourage SOs to organise discussion on supply issues at meetings, including at supply member meetings, and contact regional organising forum representatives (and do this anyway in the absence of an SO).
- Identify key local issues and specific agencies to be approached.
- Identify other steps which can be taken to support supply members, including approaches to members and school leaders, and approaches to schools and other settings about sourcing supply staff.