A deal is a deal is a deal, even in the worst recession for a generation. That is the message from the Educational Institute of Scotland to local authority employers who want to reopen the teachers' three-year pay agreement and replace the final year's 2.4 per cent increase with a pay freeze.
The council view is that, under the standstill funding settlement they expect from the Scottish Government, they will not be able to raise pay for other sectors of the workforce. How can they tell janitors, classroom assistants or dinner ladies their pay is being frozen, while at the same time paying teachers an additional 2.4 per cent? It's a reasonable question.
But the local authorities cannot escape from the fact it was they and central government that vetoed the teachers' request for a reopener clause in the agreement, saying they needed three years of "financial certainty".
That was then, however, and this is now. While extraordinary times may suggest extraordinary responses, John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, insists existing pay deals must be honoured, so we must assume that councils will not succeed in their bid to break the teachers' settlement. At the same time, he has effectively tied councils' hands by demanding standstill budgets for the next three financial years.
Local authorities will have learnt some hard lessons from this experience. They must now be reflecting on the folly of agreeing a two-year pay deal with other council workers and a three-year one with teachers. As a result, teachers will no doubt enjoy the discomfort of watching council and government negotiators wrestling with their pay in the run-up to the next Scottish parliamentary elections in 2011. With the votes of some 53,000 teachers to play for, will the SNP Government really want to play hardball?