Paid Union Meetings (PUMs) and Requirements to Keep Schools Open
What are the requirements for the union(s) when seeking the time?
What are the requirements for boards to provide the time?
These meetings are provided for under Section 26 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA). Union members are entitled to attend at least two paid union meetings during any year and the ERA (s26) sets a number of rules around these meetings. The Education Act 1989 has additional requirements on boards. In some cases the relevant collective agreement will contain provisions.
Union/Employee legal responsibilities:
- The union must give the board at least 14 days notice of the date/time of the meeting.
- The union must make such arrangements with the employer as may be necessary to ensure that the school remains open for instruction during any union meeting, including, where appropriate, an arrangement for sufficient union members to remain available during the meeting to enable the school to remain open for instruction.
- Employees are required to return to work as soon as practicable at the end of the meeting, but the employer is not obliged to pay any union member for a period longer than 2 hours in respect of any meeting (which includes travel time to and from the meeting).
- The union must provide the employer with a list of members who attended the meeting and also advise the duration of the meeting.
Boards' legal responsibilities
The board is required to:
- Provide union members with the opportunity to attend the union meetings
- Pay the union member their "ordinary pay" for the period (see below)
- Keep the school open for instruction
- Ensure the safety of the students and staff
- Where the meeting occurs during the normal working hours of the employee, then they are entitled to be paid ordinary wages for that time up to the 2 hours maximum.
Boards are not required to pay employees for:
- more than the 2 hours (which includes any travel time) or
- attending meetings outside their normal hours or for days of the week on which they do not normally work.
Part time employees, for instance, cannot claim payment for attending a union meeting on a day or period of time on which they would not normally be employed.
Boards are not require to meet any of the expenses associated with the meeting
Open for instruction
While the union is required to ensure the school's operation is not unduly affected, the board needs to act in good faith regarding these requirements, this does not mean maintaining the school's operation at usual levels and there may be other options.
Under Section 65A of the Education Act 1989 (the Act), the Minister of Education prescribes the number of half days on which schools must be open for instruction. (A half day is defined in Section 65B as at least two hours before, or after, noon).
Under Section 65E of the Act, "the board may at any time, because of an epidemic, flood, fire or other emergencies, close the school" for instruction. If satisfied that this closure was necessary the Secretary for Education may, by written notice to the board, reduce the number of half days for which the school would otherwise be required to be open. The board has authority to close the school for instruction for the above reasons.
A paid union meeting does not create an emergency regarding of Section 65E of the Act. Therefore, the school should not be closed for instruction in these circumstances. If it is, the Secretary for Education will almost certainly require the lost half days to be made up.
The board has a legal requirement to ensure that the school is open for instruction for the required number of half days unless the Secretary for Education has approved otherwise.
Flexibility of dates
The Minister has gazetted a notice setting out when schools may exercise flexibility to open for instruction. This flexibility of dates is to allow schools to accommodate local events more easily. A board of trustees may close a school for teacher-only days, local gala or show days, and in-service training days. Where a board exercises this flexibility and closes the school, boards must ensure that schools are open for instruction for the prescribed number of half-days in 2010.
This flexibility is restricted to these events - it does not include PUMs'.
There is no provision in the Act for a closure of part of a school. The school is either open or closed for instruction. Every enrolled student is required to attend school whenever the school is open for instruction, and every board must take all reasonable steps to ensure that such students do attend. (Section 25, the Education Act.).
In most situations it is expected that appropriate arrangements can be made, where instruction is not able to be provided at the usual level the board needs to take a practical approach to this.
There will be a variety of different circumstances applying to schools. Much will be dependent on whether:
- staff who are not members of the union are available to cover the work
- you have other staff who can cover (which may include union members as per above)
- the union meeting is in the morning or afternoon and the timing of that meeting
- what arrangements the union have made with the board to ensure the school remains open for instruction
All efforts should be taken to ensure that students have proper supervision. If this cannot be provided the board may feel obliged to advise parents to keep students at home for this period, although the school is kept open for instruction. Obviously, the individual circumstances of parents/caregivers in your community is a factor to take into account.
Discuss with your Employment Adviser if in doubt.