Cosla split leaves teachers' fates in the balance

3rd April 2015 at 01:00
School staff in four areas could be rehired on new contracts

Teachers could be dismissed and rehired on new contracts in the four councils that have left the body responsible for negotiating teachers' pay, according to a report seen exclusively by TESS.

Teachers in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire were living with uncertainty over pay and conditions, according to the EIS teaching union. The four local authorities officially left Cosla, the umbrella organisation representing councils, on Wednesday. Together, they have set up a new organisation called the Scottish Local Government Partnership (SLGP).

But the breakaway councils had failed to "show their hand" and confirm whether they would continue to honour national pay and conditions deals, EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice said. The situation was "totally unacceptable", he added.

The SLGP, however, told TESS that it would continue to be part of the country's collective bargaining arrangements "just the same as Cosla", and that teachers in the SLGP council areas would "not see any difference in their terms and conditions compared with colleagues in other councils".

In its report on the potential impact of the withdrawal, the EIS acknowledges that there is currently "little sign" of the breakaway councils rejecting national collective bargaining but maintains that it is possible, particularly "at a future date".

The EIS also warns that teachers will take industrial action if any authority attempts to dismiss and rehire staff, although the union adds that it could be put in a "difficult" position if a council offered better pay for its teachers "to induce the EIS to abandon national bargaining".

Mr Morrice said: "The EIS is committed to national collective bargaining on pay and conditions. The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers [SNCT] is a tripartite negotiating body, between the Scottish government, employers and recognised teacher unions.

"The EIS is seeking a clear commitment from the partnership group that it will honour the outcome of the SNCT negotiations for teachers and associated professionals. Any other approach threatens the integrity of our bargaining arrangements and potentially the pay and conditions of our members in those council areas."

`Out of the loop'

On Wednesday, the start of the new financial year, the current teachers' pay deal ran out and four councils officially quit Cosla. According to the EIS report, the authorities that have left the body have three options. They could simply continue to abide by pay and conditions established by the SNCT; they could strike a deal with Cosla to gain a seat at the negotiating table; or they could "resile" from the SNCT.

The report says: "For current employees, councils who resile from the SNCT would either seek to dismiss and reengage its workforce on contracts which allowed for local determination of pay and conditions, or simply leave its current workforce alone but introduce new contracts for those commencing employment or changing the nature of their engagement, for example through promotion or moving from part-time to full-time."

An SLGP spokesperson told TESS that it would "be part of the country's collective bargaining arrangements, just the same as Cosla, and teachers in the SLGP councils can be reassured that they will not see any difference in their terms and conditions compared with colleagues in other councils."

Cosla, however, countered that the SLGP councils had "ruled themselves out of the loop". A spokesman said: "The constitutions of the major bargaining groups such as the Scottish Joint Council and the SNCT, which involve all the relevant trade unions and in the case of the teacher workforce, the Scottish government, define the `employers' side' representation as being determined exclusively by Cosla. The so-called `partnership' councils have no locus here."

As TESS went to press, Cosla had offered to continue to represent the SLGP councils nationally in negotiations within the current arrangements but the SLGP spokesperson told TESS: "We intend to have an active role, a seat at the table, rather than have a third party negotiate on our behalf."

A new pay deal for teachers is currently being negotiated by the SNCT. The unions' demand for a 5 per cent rise over one year was knocked back; a counter-offer of 1 per cent was then made but rejected by the unions.

TESS understands that a two-year deal has been discussed but talks are ongoing, with the negotiations now on hold until after the Easter break.

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