Schedule 15

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 am on 26th March 2009.

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The School Support Staff Negotiating Body

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 377, in schedule 15, page 221, line 10, at end insert—

‘(5) The membership of the SSSNB shall include an equal number of persons representing—

(a) the interests of prescribed school support staff organisations, and

(b) the interests of prescribed school support staff employer organisations.’.

We now come to schedule 15 and clause 212, which establishes the school support staff negotiating body. The amendment would insert into paragraph 2 of the schedule, which relates to the membership of the body—paragraph 1 relates to its constitution—a fifth aspect of the membership by saying that it shall include an equal number of people representing the interests of prescribed school support staff organisations and the interests of prescribed school support staff employer organisations. It is designed to ensure that the SSSNB is not dominated by one side or the other in negotiations and that employers and employees are given an equal voice in the body. That is one concern of the Foundation and Aided Schools National Association and other employers, so I should be grateful if the Minister addressed the amendment and let us have his opinion.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I wholeheartedly agree that there should always be equal representation of employers and employees on the school support staff negotiating body. It goes without saying that it would be unlikely for trade unions or organisations representing employers of support staff to agree to be party to any body that did not allow them fair representation and equal voting rights.

Schedule 15 already provides the necessary means to ensure that employer and employee organisations are treated equally by providing that the SSSNB will be constituted in accordance with arrangements made by the Secretary of State after consultation with the school support staff organisations and the school support staff employer organisations.

A constitution for the non-statutory body, which the Secretary of State will set up using his prerogative powers, is being drawn up in consultation with all the organisations that will make up the membership of the SSSNB. Arrangements made for the constitution of the non-statutory body will be treated as if they were arrangements made for the statutory body once it comes into effect. That draft constitution allows the organisations representing school support staff employers and employees to agree collectively the number of individuals who will represent each named organisation. However, it also stipulates that the total number of individual members representing support staff employer organisations must not exceed a total of 15; similarly, individual members representing support staff must not exceed 15.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The right hon. Gentleman has almost answered my question. If he is consulting on a constitution that provides for an equal number of people representing employers and employees, there is no reason why he cannot accept the amendment. It would not clash with the constitution, which has other things in addition—more detail on the numbers and so on. The amendment is not inconsistent or incompatible with the constitution.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I do not believe that it is necessary to reiterate the point that the hon. Gentleman made in the schedule. Before making revisions to the constitution, the Secretary of State is required by the schedule to consult the member organisations that represent the interests of school support staff and employers. That will help to ensure the fairness and equity of membership that is being sought, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment on the basis of those assurances.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

It is a little churlish of the Minister not to accept the amendment, but I am reassured, so I might be thought churlish if I pressed it to a Division. His assurance was delivered at great speed, so I shall read the Hansard report and consider the matter further with a view to returning to it on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

I beg to move amendment 547, in schedule 15, page 222, line 4, leave out ‘represents’ and insert

‘is a trade union recognised to represent’.

This is a small but perfectly formed and important amendment to paragraph 8 of the schedule, which includes some important definitions of the organisations that will be members of the negotiating body. School support staff are represented by recognised trade unions, such as GMB, UNISON and Unite, and that is incorporated into their employment contracts via the local government Green Book conditions. If the Green Book terms are replaced with the SSSNB’s terms, the recognised status of support staff unions will be lost. What replaces it under the SSSNB structure is membership of the body, but that is not the same as being recognised. The purpose of the amendment is to maintain the continuity of trade union recognition for support staff, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

My hon. Friend has set out clearly what the amendment is trying to achieve, and I am aware that some trade unions are worried that their status of recognition in collective bargaining will be lost. The SSSNB will be a statutory body and membership will be prescribed in regulations. UNISON, Unite and GMB will be the prescribed unions as currently titled, and employers and unions represented on the SSSNB will be required by statute to consider and negotiate on matters relating to the remuneration of support staff. The statutory provision supports the view that the employers who are represented on the SSSNB have recognised the unions for collective bargaining purposes by virtue of the fact that both unions and employer representatives are required under legislation to negotiate with a view to reaching agreement. Naming the relevant organisations within the prescribing regulations provides the unions with appropriate statutory recognition, so the amendment would add nothing of further significance in strengthening that level of recognition. I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The hon. Lady has raised a very important point, and I would like the Minister to clarify whether there are any circumstances in which one of the organisations referred to in this part of the Bill might not be a trade union.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

Clearly, those representing the employees—the staff—would be just those three unions, but representatives of the employers would also be on the body, and they would not be trade unions.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Labour, Gateshead East and Washington West

With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 15 agreed to.

Clause 213 ordered to stand part of the Bill.