British school teachers' strike bid thwarted but bigger walkout looms

School head teachers demonstrate to demand better funding for education, in London

By Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) -Turnout in a ballot by one school teachers' union fell short on Thursday of the threshold needed for a strike over pay but a potentially big walkout in England and Wales still loomed with another union holding a vote on the matter.

The NASUWT union said on Thursday nine in 10 teachers who voted in its ballot supported strike action, but the 42% turnout fell short of the required 50% threshold.

But a separate ballot of 300,000 teachers and support staff by another, larger trade union, the National Education Union, closes on Friday. A result in that ballot in favour of striking could result in a much larger walkout.

As the country grapples with double digit inflation, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under pressure to resolve a wave of industrial action in Britain that began last year, involving hundreds of thousands of workers and repeatedly disrupting key services like healthcare and rail transport.

While the low turnout in the NASUWT ballot prevents teachers from taking industrial action, the union said it remained in dispute with the government and employers and would continue to campaign for better pay.

"It is clear that our members are sending a strong message to the government on the need to address teachers’ pay concerns," NASUWT General Secretary Patrick Roach said.

"The readiness of our members to support industrial action demonstrates the anger of the profession and the need for governments in England and Wales to engage in meaningful negotiations."

Teachers' unions have called for greater funding for schools after two years of disrupted education due to the pandemic.

The NASUWT has demanded a 12% pay award, saying the government's offer of 5% for experienced teachers and higher for early-career teachers is inadequate given the inflation rate.

A typical classroom teacher is currently 50,000 pounds ($60,615) worse off than they would have been had their pay had kept pace with inflation over the last decade, the union says.

Britain's Department for Education has called the prospect of strike action unreasonable and said schools will receive a 4-billion-pound investment over the next two years.

Amid the wave of strikes, ministers met trade unions on Monday but failed to bring an end to the strikes.

(Reporting by Muvija MWriting by Sachin RavikumarEditing by William James and Frances Kerry)