Addressing the union's special conference in Dundee last weekend, May Ferries underlined the union's determination to place a more effective limit on workload and a cap on management direction of non-teaching time. The professionalism of teachers had to be acknowledged.
Ms Ferries cautioned: "There is a very strong message coming from this meeting - the Scottish Executive must recognise that working time is the single issue that will either bring agreement or disagreement and an ongoing dispute."
Conditions of service, not pay, remain the principal concern, and industrial action remains firmly in the sights of the EIS leadership if members reject the conclusions of talks currently under way on the McCrone recommendations. But negotiators believe they can win substantial concessions after new Labour's recent buffeting.
Ms Ferries, depute head of a Glasgow primary, said that current workload agreements failed to give protection. "As professionals, we are not good at saying no because we always think it will be good for the kids."
She argued for "a lid on management-focused collegiate tasks" within a 35-hour week, the bulk of which had to come under the control of teachers for teaching and learning. Independent research commissioned by the EIS had already shown that teachers on average work 42 hours week.
George Rubienski, Edinburgh, said: "Thirty-five hours is not a problem for many teachers since they work far beyond that anyway. The crucial isue is teacher autonomy."
Left-wingers, however, challenged the leadership over the acceptance of a 35-hour week, 7.5 hours above the current contractual stipulation. Glenys Borthwick, West Dunbartonshire, described its position as "turkeys voting for hotter ovens and more and more stuffing". The union should begin with the existing contract and seek improvements.
"Yes, we cannot do the job. We need more teachers, we need more time and we need less initiatives," Ms Borthwick said.
Allan Armstrong, Edinburgh, warned that management would do everything it could to gain total control of the extra five hours - the McCrone committee's proposal - for collegiate activities. "You will end up, instead of doing a 42-hour week, doing a 47-hour week," Mr Armstrong said.
John Dennis, Dumfries and Galloway, said: "The McCrone position is one hour per day PAT (planned activity time) or its equivalent, except in weeks where there is a parents' evening."
But Alana Ross, Glasgow, a leading negotiator, countered that it was unrealistic to argue for a contractual working week teachers could not do the job in.
She declared: "We have to let the public know we are not work-shy. We are filling up the 35 hours. The important thing is we want to use the time to make the teaching and learning processes worth while, not spending time on a lot of management controlled gobbledegook where we have to sit and read daft documents nobody implements."
The left-wing challenge was defeated on a 156-149 vote. A further vote on the extra five days for continuing professional development - which the leadership opposes anyway - was also beaten by 139-138 votes.
Leader, page 16