Schools accused of using GDPR as an excuse to stifle union activities

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Some schools are misusing the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to deny teachers fair trade union representation, it has been claimed.

The NASUWT has accused some employers of using the GDPR, which came into effect in May, to deny trade unions access to legitimate information on matters such as redundancy and equal pay.

The union took its complaint to the TUC Congress in Manchester last week. It has called on the TUC to press the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to issue statutory guidance to employers to tackle the problem.

The TUC conference voted in favour of a motion presented to delegates by NASUWT general secretary, Chris Keates. It called for the ICO to issue “clear and unequivocal guidance to protect the rights of trade unions to be provided with information in order to represent and advocate for their members”.

Ms Keates said: “Unfortunately, it is all too common for unscrupulous employers to seek to take a legislative provision designed to protect individuals and distort it to deny workers their rights.

“More and more examples are emerging of employers in the education sector seeking to withhold workforce data, designed to identify discriminatory practices and inequality, thereby preventing trade unions representing their members’ interests. Job losses, which causes appalling stress and distress, (are) made worse by employers seeking to withhold vital workforce information needed for unions to seek to protect workers’ rights.”

The union’s complaints about schools include employers withholding information from NASUWT when dealing with redundancy situations, such as the names of the staff affected.

In some small schools, heads and governors are claiming that, because of GDPR, they can no longer agree to share statistical data collected from routine workforce monitoring or staff surveys. The NASUWT said this information was often crucial in helping its officers to identify inequality or discriminatory practices.

Some employers were also asking the union to enter into data-sharing agreements with them which would allow the employer to audit and inspect the union’s own data processing arrangements.

Ms Keates added: “These actions are nothing to do with protecting people’s personal data and everything to do with employers trying to pursue exploitative working practices and prevent trade unions fighting for decent pay and working conditions for members. We are calling on the TUC to press the ICO to act and to prevent the manipulation of this important legislation to disadvantage working people.”

An ICO spokesperson said: “The GDPR applies only to personal data. The ICO has provided a range of tools, resources and guidance on its website to help organisations, including schools, comply with and understand the new law. This includes a comprehensive guide to the GDPR which clearly defines personal data.”


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