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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Teachers want action on 35-hour week
Peter Smith
ATL says the action would lead to "civil disobedience"
By BBC News Online's Angela Harrison at the ATL conference in Torquay

Teachers in England and Wales have voted in favour of taking industrial action unless the government begins moves towards a 35-hour week.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers was the first of four classroom unions to debate a joint motion on workload, at its annual conference in Torquay, Devon.

The vote was unanimous.

The motion condemns the government for what it calls its failure to take effective action to remove the "excessive workload" of teachers.

It calls for an independent inquiry into teachers' workloads and pay structure.

If the demands are not met, the motion says the unions will ballot on industrial action to limit teachers' working time to no more than 35 hours a week.

'Abuse teachers and lose them'

The general secretary of the ATL, Peter Smith, drew loud applause from delegates when he said: "If you treat teachers like no more than curriculum shelf-stackers, then you will get a profession of de-motivated zombies, and it is quite close to that already in the schools."

Proposing the motion, the senior vice-president of the union, Julie Grant, said she had a message for Tony Blair, who is expected to speak at the conference later in the week.

She called on him to help remove unacceptable workloads.

"If you abuse your teachers, you will lose them," she said.

Delegates waved their agenda papers as they voted unanimously to support the motion.

The three other unions - the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Welsh union Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru (UCAC) - will vote at their conferences in the next few weeks.

The unions are all demanding a maximum working week of 35 hours, maximum classroom contact time of 22.5 hours and a simpler salary structure which would allow most teachers to reach a wage of 35,000.

They also want an independent inquiry into their pay and conditions.

David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett says the public would not be sympathetic
Speaking earlier to journalists Peter Smith said: "I very much hope we won't go down the path of industrial action.

"I think we'll only go down that path if the government decides not to listen."

The action would lead to "civil disobedience" in classroom, he said, with teachers refusing to do administrative tasks such as photocopying and paperwork connected with national tests.

Long holidays

Last week, the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said the public was unlikely to sympathise with teachers wanting to work a 35-hour week when they got such long holidays.

But teachers south of the border say they should be entitled to the same deal as was recently offered to their Scottish colleagues by the Scottish Executive.

Mr Smith said teachers were not looking for a "licence to shirk", only some regulation and control over their hours.

"We have teachers who say they work 51 hours a week and another 15 at the weekend," he said.

'Time to Teach'

More than 600 ATL members are attending the conference, which finishes on Thursday.

The union has adopted the slogan "Time to Teach" for its campaign in the run up to the general election.

It is calling for a reduction in red tape, rewards for hard work and greater respect for teachers.

Mr Smith said: "The ATL would like to see the burden of bureaucracy lifted from the shoulders of our dedicated teachers.

"Classroom teachers are not able to use their times and skills effectively because they are tied with red tape, rather than spending their time at the chalk face."

In its campaign, the union said it was re-defining the three Rs to highlight areas of concern.

The ATL's Rs are reducing red tape, reward and recognition and respect for teachers.

The BBC's James Westhead
"Teacher's hours have grown and this is the first time all the teaching unions have been so united"
ATL general secretary, Peter Smith
"This is a warning - it's the last thing teachers want to do"
See also:

09 Apr 01 | UK Education
09 Mar 01 | UK Education
06 Mar 01 | UK Education
22 Mar 01 | UK Education
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