NUT members at Small Heath School are taking strike action against the victimisation of their union rep, Simon O’Hara. Parents had previously written an open letter to Cllr Brigid Jones, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Council Leader John Clancy asking for a meeting about the future of their school and for Simon O’Hara to be reinstated. But on 9th February Cllr Jones instead chose to publish her email to the NUT on the Birmingham Newsroom criticising the industrial action. Now David Room, General Secretary of the Birmingham NUT has written an open letter in response, reproduced below;
12th February 2016
Open letter to Councillor Brigid Jones on strike action at Small Heath School
I write in response to your comments regarding the on-going strike action at Small Heath School, which were published on the City Council’s Newsroom site on 9th February 2016. I believe your comments to be so misleading, insulting and patronising that an open response is required to put matters right.
After a great deal of deliberation and with considerable reluctance, NUT members at Small Heath School, having no other course of action open to them, decided to take a rolling programme of strike action in opposition to the victimisation of their elected NUT school representative, Mr Simon O’Hara, who was suspended from work in early January.
Simon has been active and effective in representing the views of Small Heath NUT members in opposing the school becoming an academy as well as opposing unreasonable management initiatives. The Union believes it is no coincidence that Simon was suspended from work just two days after members at the school reluctantly voted to take further strike action in relation to proposed academy status. It is also the strongly held belief of the Union that Simon’s suspension is disproportionate and unjustified: the allegations against him do not warrant suspension and these can easily be investigated with Simon back at work. These allegations are extremely flimsy in nature and could have been dealt with immediately by the Headteacher. Indeed, in such circumstances it is usual for a Headteacher to deal with such matters by way of a ‘management discussion’.
The victimisation of Simon for carrying out his Union duties is a most serious matter and NUT members at Small Heath School have decided to take strike action on the clear principle that such victimisation is totally unacceptable. Given the rich history that exists between the Labour Party and the trade union movement, our many shared goals and the many struggles we have been involved in for the benefit of working people, I expected you would have been one of the first to demand that this affront to justice and attack on trade unionism be remedied without delay. This was not the case. Perhaps if you had intervened some weeks ago the matter might now be resolved. Indeed you might, with hindsight, consider your previous inaction on this crucially important issue to be a fundamental misjudgement on your part.
For our part, the Union requested an urgent meeting with the Headteacher and HR once we became aware that the school was considering suspending Simon. We knew that such an act would seriously damage industrial relations and we wished to avert the situation we are now faced with. This meeting was refused. Undeterred, we requested to meet with representatives of the Local Authority with the aim of resolving the dispute and we have now met on two occasions. To date, our offer of suspending further strike action if Simon’s suspension is lifted has been refused by the Headteacher.
It is, in fact, the employer who has ‘crossed the line’ by victimising an NUT School Representative for carrying out his Union duties. I hope you would agree that it is in the best interests of all staff and students to be able to work and learn in an environment free from the foul spectre of victimisation. Members believe that such an exorcism is needed at Small Heath School and, to date, those with the power and authority to remedy the situation have failed to do so. When the individuals and organisations our members at the school rely on to put such matters right have failed in this regard I ask you what other course of action is left open to them but to take strike action?
You seem to suggest that the Union relies on internal hearings and appeals to deal with this issue. Those hearings and appeals will be presided over by an employer which has already, we believe, misused the school’s disciplinary procedure, resulting in Simon’s unjustified suspension. At present, members do not have faith in a procedure which has already been used to victimise their Union representative.
It is due to the dedication, hard work and commitment of staff at the school, not local politicians, that Small Heath School was graded as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted on 5 occasions in recent years. NUT members wish to return to doing the job they love, teaching the young people of Small Heath, as soon as possible and I ask that you now assist them to do so by contacting the employer without delay to ask that the unjustified and unnecessary suspension of Simon O’Hara be lifted immediately.
I would be pleased to meet with you at your earliest convenience in order that we discuss how this dispute could be resolved as soon as possible.