Teachers' dispute: Gove accused of 'game-playing'

Michael Gove Letters between Mr Gove and the two main teaching unions failed to agree a basis for talks

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Teaching unions have accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of "game-playing" after they failed to agree a basis for talks in their dispute.

Last month the NUT and NASUWT suspended plans for one-day strike in England and Wales before Christmas, during discussions to agree "genuine talks".

But tempers on both sides have frayed after an exchange of letters.

On Monday the two unions wrote to Michael Gove "reaffirming their commitment" to joint action.

But on Thursday Mr Gove expressed disappointment, in another letter, that a national strike is once again on the cards.

Later that day, the teaching unions accused him of "deliberately seeking to misrepresent" their position.

The failure to agree talks centres on Mr Gove's unwillingness to discuss policy which he said had already been decided, after consultation, and his invitation to other organisations to join the talks. These organisations are not involved in the dispute.

'Provocation'

They include the ATL union, NAHT and ASCL which represent head teachers, as well as the small union Voice and Edapt which offers legal advice to teachers.

"This will help ensure that all are represented fairly and striking unions do not have any unfair advantage over other organisations which have not taken strike action," wrote Mr Gove.

In response, the leaders of the NUT and NASUWT accused Mr Gove of "resorting to provocation".

The leader of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower has pointed out that the trade dispute in question is with the two main unions, the NUT and NASUWT, which between them represent 90% of teachers - and not with the other five organisations that Mr Gove wants to involve in the talks.

On Monday a joint statement from Ms Blower and Christine Keates, leader of the NASUWT, reaffirmed that plans were in place for a national strike in England and Wales "no later than 13 February 2014 in the event of insufficient progress through negotiation."

Dialogue

The statement says that the secretary of state "has also been reminded" that in accordance with labour relations law "these trade disputes are only capable of resolution by agreement between the secretary of state as a minister of the crown and the NASUWT and the NUT".

In Thursday's letter Mr Gove said he was "saddened that you seem to be refusing to take part in the programme of talks which you had called for, simply because they are too inclusive".

"It appears that you are rejecting dialogue just because other organisations which represent teachers will be involved.

"It is only right and fair, in the interests of transparency, that everyone should be represented in talks which could affect the whole of the profession."

Mr Gove said that the talks would go ahead without the two unions and that his office was in the process of setting up the first meeting.

In their response, late on Thursday, the two union leaders told Mr Gove "you are mistaken about the attitude of our unions with regard to engagement in talks and we regret that you are deliberately seeking to misrepresent our position.

"The NASUWT and the NUT are genuinely seeking to resolve our trade disputes and are seriously dismayed by game-playing by the office of the secretary of state.

"We are and have always been prepared to attend meetings called by the department on matters affecting the pay, pensions and working conditions of our members."

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