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‘Teachers in Scotland would strike – but it’s not inevitable’

The leader of Scotland’s biggest teaching union says members would be prepared to consider an improved pay offer

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, says his union is prepared to consider a revised teacher pay offer

The leader of Scotland’s biggest teaching union says members would be prepared to consider an improved pay offer

We have now been negotiating for the best part of a year with local authorities and the Scottish government for a pay settlement that was due to be paid to teachers in April 2018. Our members have shown a great deal of patience while waiting for negotiations to reach a conclusion, but it is clear that this patience is now exhausted.

The feelings of the teaching profession have been made abundantly clear over the past year. EIS members have shown impressive levels of support for our “Value Education, Value Teachers” campaign since it was launched almost exactly a year ago.

This support was demonstrated by the incredible turnout at our national rally in Glasgow in late October, when well over 30,000 people took to the streets to demand a fair pay deal for teachers. This support was also evident in the 98 per cent rejection of the initial “final” offer from [local authorities body] Cosla and the Scottish government in a ballot of members. These events provided a real boost to the campaign, and made both local and national government acutely aware of the need to improve their pay offer.

Teacher pay offer 'not good enough'

A subsequent offer tabled in December, and resubmitted in January following some slight revisions, was also rejected by teachers’ side negotiators. While these revised offers did remove the more divisive elements of the previous offer by offering to amend all pay scales (not just the main-grade scale, as had been the case in the first offer), the unanimous view of teachers’ side negotiators was that the offer still wasn’t good enough.

The EIS had been very clear during discussions in highlighting that we would open an industrial action ballot early in 2019, should no improved offer be made to teachers. We issued formal notice to employers last week, and will open the ballot at the end of this month if no new offer is forthcoming from employers.

There is, of course, the prospect of a revised offer being tabled before the ballot opens. The cabinet secretary [John Swinney] has written to the EIS, outlining his proposal for funding an enhanced offer. However, it is important to remember that this proposal is not yet a formal offer. Teachers are employed by local authorities so, while the Scottish government plays an important part in negotiations via the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), only local authorities can actually make a pay offer to teachers.

This week, Cosla leaders will meet and decide whether or not to make the improved pay offer to teachers. Should they decide to make the offer, the EIS will suspend the planned strike ballot while it consults its members on the new offer. In the event that Cosla declines to make a new offer, we will proceed with balloting our members for strike action.

At every stage, the Value Education, Value Teachers campaign has been led by EIS members. This will continue to be the case. It will be for teachers to decide if they find any new offer acceptable, or if the ballot on strike action should move forward.

Larry Flanagan is general secretary of the EIS, Scotland’s biggest teaching union. Today, we have also published a comment article on teacher pay by education secretary John Swinney.

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