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Pay talks 'in lastchance saloon'

A LEADING councillor has warned that teachers are in "the last chance saloon" if they are to reach a pay and conditions deal.

Pat Watters, spokesperson on personnel matters for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and an influential Labour figure, urged union leaders to negotiate in earnest following the outcome of the Millennium Review.

But as Mr Watters was appealing to the unions at Cosla's education forum in Inverness to "pick up the gauntlet and run with it" the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association was beginning a campaign aimed at highlighting "the Millennium Review threat to national conditions".

The SSTA slogan, in an implicit anticipation that the Educational Institute of Scotland may be prepared to be more flexible in negotiations with the management, is to be "no secondary sell-out".

Talks in the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee get under way on October 9 and the two sides are due to meet the Education Minister three days later to hear what the Government expects from the negotiations.

Mr Watters chairs the personnel committee in South Lanarkshire which has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the EIS over claims that the council has unilaterally torn up disciplinary and grievance agreements.

A key industrial tribunal judgment is awaited on the South Lanarkshire moves which would allow education officials to dismiss teachers rather than the education committee, although with a right of appeal to a subcommittee of councillors. The council says this would bring teachers into line with other local government staff.

Mr Watters told the Cosla meeting: "Teachers are the only group of local authority staff who don't have an internal appeal system and they have conditions which don't even conform to the Acas (conciliation service) code.

"Yet the teachers' unions refuse point blank to make changes which I would regard as an improvement in their conditions. But I don't believe the unions necessarily speak for all their members, and it is time they realised that standing still is not an option."

The unions adamantly resist the view that they should be treated as another group of local government workers, and are also determined to concede as few of their national conditions as possible.

The SSTA campaign gives notice that the authorities will have a fight on their hands if they press on with their key demands for more local bargaining, a slimmer management structure in secondary schools and highly paid "superteachers".

David Eaglesham, the SSTA's general secretary, said: "It is ludicrous to suggest that a future structure could be maintained without retaining the key role of principal teachers and improving salaries across the board. We must avoid local pay bargaining at all costs."

The SSTA says there must be "no repeat of the decentralised mess affecting colleagues in FE".

The Cosla meeting heard another plea to the unions from Bob McKay, director of education in Perth and Kinross. Mr McKay said the Millennium Review was principally about improving the experience of young people in the classroom. "But we must also reassure teachers that we are interested in recruiting, retaining and rewarding teachers. It is not about reducing anything."

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