Strike at exams body averted but still a possibility

Concerns over restructuring at the SQA may still lead to strike action, despite a breakthrough in talks

Tes Reporter

The Unite union has called off strike action at the Scottish Qualifications Authority exam board after a breakthrough in a dispute over restructuring

Strike action at Scotland’s exams and qualifications authority remains a possibility, despite action  planned for this week being called off.

On Friday, it emerged that staff at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) called off the first of three planned one-day strikes, with the Unite regional officer Alison MacLean saying the union was "confident that the agreement reached with the SQA is a significant step forward".

However, Unite said it would review its position in the week beginning 8 July and that further strike action "remains a possibility if significant progress is not made".

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Members of the union had been due to walk out this Wednesday in a dispute over staff restructuring. Two more one-day strikes had been planned for 22 July and 6 August, which is exam results day.

The union had said staff were left in unsuitable roles and a redundancies agreement was breached. The SQA said it was "committed" to addressing issues.

Strike threat at SQA

Ms MacLean said: "Unite has always been committed to resolving this dispute, which has caused unnecessary anxiety for pupils and parents.

"It has also been an extremely difficult time for all Unite members and all staff across the SQA.

"We believe the joint agreement puts in place a framework which can finally end this dispute, which is why strike action is called off for next week.

"But, to be clear, the dispute is not formally over and we will continue to monitor progress. Actions speak louder than words."

It also emerged at the end of last week that Dr Janet Brown, the SQA's chief executive, had apologised in a letter to staff, which read: "I am truly sorry for the upset and uncertainty that some staff have experienced over the last few months as a result of protracted and complex restructuring.

"With hindsight, I accept this could and should have been implemented more effectively. I am saddened by this, as it has not been typical of the SQA I have been proud to lead over the last 12 years.

"I also regret that this has resulted in the deterioration of the relationship and trust between Unite and its members and SQA management."

Dr Brown, who is retiring this year, said she was pleased that both parties had acknowledged the need to work together to develop a strong relationship built on mutual trust, communication and partnership.

The dispute centres on an internal restructuring process that left some workers without specific job roles. Unite members raised a collective dispute with the SQA over the organisation’s ability to restructure in a “fair and competent manner”.

The strike threat was prompted by concerns that staff who opted for voluntary redundancy during the restructuring process, but who now wanted to be considered for new roles with the SQA, were not being allowed to stay.

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