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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Unions unite over 35-hour week
Tony Toole
Tony Toole: Had seizure due to stress of workload
By Gary Eason at the NASUWT conference in Jersey

All three of the biggest classroom unions in England and Wales have now adopted a joint demand for an inquiry into teachers' workload and pay, with the threat of industrial action in pursuit of a 35-hour week.

Delegates at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) conference have voted almost unanimously to adopt a resolution agreed already by the ATL and the NUT gatherings.

The union's general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said he was "delighted" with the show of unity between unions representing almost half a million teachers.

Sue Rogers
Sue Rogers: "The problem with this job is that all the fun and all the pleasure has gone from it"
He said talks would now begin with the local authority employers and the government.

The School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said when she visited the conference on Tuesday that she expected the various parties to meet next week.

She also made it clear that the government did not intend to concede the principle of a limit to teachers' working week.

She said: "Professionals do what they need to do to do the job. Most professionals don't count their hours."

Mr de Gruchy said that if she thought it was unprofessional to have an hours limit, was she accusing 70,000 teachers in Scotland of being unprofessional?

Teachers north of the border have agreed a deal which improves their pay prospects and involves a maximum of 35 hours a week.

Scottish model

The McCrone settlement, as it is known, provided the starting point for the unions' joint resolution in England and Wales - which is also to be voted on by the much smaller Welsh union UCAC next month.

During the conference debate on the resolution, delegates made clear their strength of feeling about their workload - independently estimated to be at least 53 hours a week.

Sue Rogers, a secondary school teacher from Sheffield, said friends imagined her idea of a luxury to be chocolates or foreign travel - but it was the one thing she never had enough of: Time.

Martin Johnson
"Commitment to industrial action is vital," said Martin Johnson
She listed the school-related paperwork she had done while she was "on holiday" last week.

"I haven't even begun to prepare to teach, prepared a single lesson, done any marking.

"And if you are like me you hate Sunday nights. I loathe Sunday nights because all I do is work, work, work for Monday," she said to loud applause.

Tony Toole, who teaches at St Ambrose College in Altrincham, Cheshire, said he knew what the public would say in response to news of the unions' demand.

"Here we go: Whining, whingeing teachers. They all earn 30,000 a year, they only work from nine till three and they get all those holidays.

Mick Carney
Mick Carney: "Year after year after year the workload worsens"
"I know that is what they will say because that's what I used to say."

Mr Toole said he had owned his own business and regularly worked 60 hours a week. It had cost him his marriage and his home. He had gone into teaching hoping to spend more time with his children.

"Two months into my first job I woke up in the arms of a paramedic, my head covered in blood, having uncontrollably headbutted the bedside cabinet with a seizure brought on, the GP said, by stress."

A former president of the union, Martin Johnson, said teachers' time should be regarded as "a scarce resource".

The commitment in the resolution to industrial action - short of a strike - was vital, he said.

"Of course we welcome talks with the employers and with the government but we owe it to our members: If we are not given a limit to our working hours then we must take it."

The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"Teachers are working harder now than ever before"
See also:

16 Apr 01 | UK Education
20 Mar 01 | UK Education
13 Apr 01 | UK Education
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