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SJNC 'shoot-out' goes to Holyrood

TEACHERS had a gun at their heads during the entire negotiations on the Millennium Review, MSPs were told on Wednesday. Either they swallowed a deal or the employers' allies would ensure the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee was scrapped, union spokesmen claimed.

Malcolm Maciver, the Educational Institute of Scotland's salaries convener, told the education, culture and sport committee it was difficult to conclude an agreement when two partners - the employers and the Scottish Executive - did not want the negotiations to succeed. If they wanted the talks to work, a compromise could still be reached, he insisted.

"There was an element on the management side who believed that either way they were going to win," Mr Maciver said.

Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, felt the employers wanted change with or without agreement. "At no time was there an attempt to come to an agreed draft document. It was a peculiar way to proceed," Mr Smith said.

The committee also heard evidence on the breakdown of the pay and conditions talks from the employers and ministers.

Pressed by MSPs about the role of the Scottish Executive, Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, said it was quite clear from Labour's White Paper that if the SJNC did not come up with a package acceptable to both sides he would consider its future.

"I commend the minister for his honesty," Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's shadow minister, replied.

Mr Maciver said the unions had repeatedly told the management that its ambitious package of reforms would not attract teachers. Unions were not Neanderthal organisations resentful of change but the employers' offer, rejected overwhelmingly by teachers, was "a dog's breakfast".

Mr Maciver said: "Nobody who delivers education on a day-to-day basis in schools said anything positive about the management side proposals."

Ian Welsh, Labour, former leader of South Ayrshire Council, warned that Scottish education was "sleep-walking to disaster". As a former teacher, he was not the least bit surprised secondary staff rejected the removal of principal teachers. As a former council leader, he had not been well informed about the details of the package.

"The figures frankly took us aback," Mr Welsh admitted.

Danny McCafferty, the authorities' spokesman, said teachers' rejection was the result of "deep-rooted, pent-up resentment, brewing for 20 years".

Mr McCafferty told the committee: "It's not an understatement that Scottish education has been brought to the edge of an abyss, rather than a bright new dawn that was the intention of the Millennium Review."

Teachers were underpaid, overworked and under stress and education needed new structures.

Keir Bloomer, the employers' key adviser and director of education in Clackmannan, said the SJNC in its 30-year existence had failed to keep teachers' pay in line with average earnings. There had been no changes to conditions of service in 10 years and teachers had not been protected from an excessive workload.

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