Teachers’ unions fear ballots for national strike action in the new year have been put at risk by postal strikes, The Telegraph has learned.
Unions are balloting more than 500,000 teachers over strike action in England and Wales, with deadlines for the arrival of completed ballot papers approaching in the next two weeks. Legislation dating back 20 years requires all ballots to be sent by post.
On Wednesday night, teaching union sources said problems caused by postal strikes this month have delayed the arrival of a large number of ballot papers, some of which may not arrive before the deadlines in January.
“Obviously it’s a worry,” said one union source. “If ballots are not in by the deadline, they won’t be counted.”
Any delayed arrival of postal votes could impact the outcome of ballots if a result narrowly misses the 40 per cent threshold of “yes” votes for strike action and a 50 per cent turnout.
Delays caused by a walkout this month of more than 100,000 members of the Communication Workers Union, which represents postal workers, have led to fears that some Christmas cards will not arrive until February.
“There are mountains of postal votes that haven’t arrived yet,” a source said. “It’s very difficult to have any idea where we will end up.”
The deadline to get ballot papers in for the 300,000 National Education Union (NEU) members is Jan 13, while the deadline for the NASUWT, which also has around 300,000 members, is on Jan 9.
Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU general secretary, said: “In all my time as general secretary, I haven’t seen such anger. We’ve got teachers using food banks, teachers who are scared to put petrol in their car because they can’t afford it, and leaving the profession in droves.”
She declined to comment on the impact of postal strikes, saying she could not disclose details of the votes that have been received.
Another teaching union source said it was hoped that provisions already in place to take into account problems with postal ballots, such as the possibility of sending ballot papers to incorrect addresses, would minimise any disruption.
It comes as more than 1,000 border staff resumed strike action at six airports on Wednesday, while rail staff at Great Western Railway and West Midlands Trains began a 24-hour walkout.
Driving examiners launched a five-day strike as part of escalating industrial action by civil servants in a dispute over pay, jobs and pensions.