Strike action threat hanging over exams

The smooth running of this year’s exams in Scotland is in the balance as union ballots over industrial action

Tes Reporter

The threat of strike action at the Scottish Qualifications Authority raises the possibility of disruption during the exam season

The exams get underway in Scotland this morning, with students across the country tackling question papers about everything from PE to Latin.

This year, however, senior pupils sitting the likes of Highers and National 5 exams could have more than nerves or a lack of preparation to contend with.

In the same week as the exams are due to get underway in Scotland, the Unite union has started to ballot its members over strike action that could impact on the final days of this year’s exams diet – as well as results day in August.

Unite, which has hundreds of members working in a wide variety of roles at exam body the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), from administration and IT to qualifications officers and researchers, this week opened a statutory ballot on industrial action at the organisation that will run until 10 May.

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If members vote in favour of industrial action, the union anticipates this will take place from late May to mid-August, thereby cutting across the end of the exam period and, critically, results day in Scotland.

Workers at exam body 'left in limbo'

The action has been sparked by an internal restructuring process, which the union says has left a number of workers without specific job roles and others in roles that they are not best suited to but had no option but to accept to ensure continued job security.

Unite members have also raised concerns over modernisation of IT systems.

Unite previously held a consultative ballot in February. Of those voting, 96 per cent of Unite members issued a vote of no confidence in senior SQA management and human resources, and 89 per cent supported potential strike action. The ballot turnout was 84 per cent.

Alison MacLean, Unite regional industrial officer, said the union had tried to negotiate “a fair process on organisational change” since August last year with the SQA but that the process had been “shambolic and chaotic”, and had “left many workers in limbo”.

She added: “Unite initially held off opening this industrial ballot in good faith hoping that an agreement at Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) could have been reached. But there has been no sense of urgency, awareness of the terrible impact on workers or seriousness on the part of SQA to resolve the outstanding issues. Instead, the SQA have played for time in an effort to ensure this doesn’t effect the examination period.

"Given that Unite has had a mandate to hold this ballot since February, we will now hold our first ever ballot from next week in an effort to get management to take the concerns of our members seriously, and to ensure that no other member of staff has to endure the stress and anxiety that many workers have experienced and continue to endure. If they do not, then industrial disruption at SQA during the exam period and at results time will be inevitable.”

 An SQA spokesman said the organisation continued to work "cooperatively and collaboratively" with the trade unions and as still holding formal discussions about the issues raised.

He said: “We are continuing with formal discussions about the issues raised under the auspices of Acas and will be meeting again at the beginning of May.

“The 2019 exams diet is on track. SQA is, as always, committed to ensuring that candidates receive their results on time.

"We have an established governance framework in place, where progress and risks are managed, supported by robust contingency plans.

“SQA’s most valuable asset is our people. SQA is totally committed to...providing everyone with the support, development and career-progression opportunities they require to enable SQA to deliver for the people and economy of Scotland.”


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