The Court of Appeal has recently confirmed that wage deductions for striking teachers should be calculated on the basis of working days, rather than calendar days, in a decision which will be welcomed by the education sector.
In the case of Hartley and others v King Edward VI College , the court considered the amount that could be withheld from the salary of sixth form college teachers, in respect of a days' strike action. Whilst both parties agreed that the college could deduct a proportion of the teachers' pay for each day of strike action, the dispute arose as to how much should be deducted.
On 30 November 2011, three teachers took part in one-day national strike, called by their union. Following the strike, the college deducted 1/260 of their pay, equivalent to one working day's pay. The teachers argued that 1/365 of their salary should have been the correct deduction, which was instead equivalent to one calendar day's pay. They brought breach of contract claims against the college.
The Court of Appeal considered that the pay which would have been earned on the strike day depended on the construction of the teachers' employment contracts. They confirmed the assumption that pay accrues daily at a rate which, in the context of the contract, is appropriate to the particular day in question. In this case, the natural interpretation of the contract would not be that pay accrued at an equal daily rate. The court decided that there was a close link between pay and working days, such that it was appropriate to make a deduction based on working days.
The amount disputed in this case was relatively small, but a finding in the teachers' favour could have cost the sector as whole around £300,000 for each day of strike action. It will therefore come as a relief that the court confirmed the college had acted appropriately and it is helpful to have this guidance when considering any future strike action.