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Millennium deadlock

Unions refuse to back down as councils insist on breaking up national scales and conditions

DISCUSSIONS on the future of national bargaining for teachers have hit the buffers, following talks in Edinburgh on Monday.

The management side's ambitions to have a range of teachers' conditions settled individually within each education authority have been thwarted once again by union opposition.

The authorities essentially wanted the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee stripped of virtually all functions, except the fixing of pay scales and annual salary increases. This was a rerun of a previous attempt in the early 1990s to buy out national conditions in return for an 18 per cent pay rise, which the unions rejected.

Monday's discussions on the future of the SJNC were held by union and management members of one of the task groups set up by the millennium review, the joint inquiry which is looking at the shape of the education service in the next century. The review's main strategy group will consider the outcome next Wednesday.

The unions, nervous of member reaction to handing too much negotiating clout to local authorities, balked at proposals to extend local bargaining to disciplinary and grievance procedures, teachers' working year and working hours, and class sizes. Under the management plan, however, local agreements would have had to be ratified by the SJNC.

The unions are none the less prepared to accept a role for local negotiations, which already take place with education authorities. Arrangements for parents' meetings, planned activities, absence cover and staff leave would be included.

They argue that there is already sufficient room for local flexibility in the existing national scheme of salaries and conditions of service to pay teachers above the national rate or vary national conditions.

But teachers could only be paid more than the going rate for undertaking specific additional tasks, ruling out salary rises across the board. And while local agreements have been struck on composite classes and absence cover, principally to save authorities money, such departures from the national position have to be authorised by the SJNC.

The unions' main anxiety, however, stems from suspicions about the attitude of local authorities to teachers, leading some influential figures to contemplate a stronger role for the Scottish parliament at the expense of the authorities.

They argue that councils, under the influence of personnel departments, increasingly regard teachers as another group of employees whose conditions should be brought into line with the less attractive terms of other local government workers.

The dispute between the Educational Institute of Scotland and South Lanarkshire Council on new disciplinary procedures, which went to an industrial tribunal last month, underlines the tensions.

Other education authorities and the unions are awaiting what will be a key tribunal ruling, which could end up in the Court of Session. Like other authorities, South Lanarkshire wants to place grievance and disciplinary procedures on the same footing as other staff.

The EIS argues that the council has unilaterally breached contracts by handing powers of dismissal to education officials.

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