Galbraith's gamble

29th October 1999 at 01:00
SAM GALBRAITH, who has come under heavy fire for his handling of the teachers' pay dispute, emerged this week as the chief architect of peace - at least for the moment.

The Children and Education Minister first of all ploughed in pound;7 million to clinch a deal, the first time any Government has directly funded a public sector pay settlement for six years. This allowed the authorities to increase their pay award to 3.5 per cent from the 3 per cent which most said was all they could afford.

During eight-hour talks in Edinburgh on Monday, the authorities chipped in a further 0.1 per cent at a cost of pound;1.3 million.

Mr Galbraith also won over the Educational Institute of Scotland by making four last-minute concessions during a meeting last week, it has emerged. Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, said that written assurances from the minister had been a "deciding factor" in calling off its planned ballot on industrial action. This was a condition of the management's offer.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association moved on Tuesday to suspend its arrangements for a vote on industrial action and its executive is today (Friday) expected to cancel the ballot.

Mr Galbraith moved to calm union anger, backed by the STUC and the SNP, at the absence of any teacher representation on the McCrone committee of inquiry on pay and conditions. He has now agreed that the EIS can appoint an adviser - likely to be Ken Wimbor, its negotiating secretary - to join the two management advisers, Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, and Bruce Robertson, director of education in Highland.

Mr Galbraith has modified the committee's terms of reference, condemned by the unions as restrictive, to include teacher workload. He also gave an assurance that the management's proposals, rejected by 98 per cent of the membership of the EIS and SSTA, were "dead".

Peter Peacock, the deputy minister, had given a similar undertaking during a parliamentary debate on September 30.

Finally, Mr Galbraith has promised the EIS that the Scottish Executive would proceed by consultation and agreement in dealing with the recommendations from the inquiry, rather than imposing them. This makes future arrangements for settling pay and conditions more crucial than ever. The last dispute in the mid-1980s was resolved only after the recommendations from the Main committee of inquiry were thrashed out in the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee.

Although ministers remain defiant that the SJNC has been a restrictive failure and must be abolished, this does not necessarily mean an end to national bargaining which Mr Galbraith and Mr Peacock want to continue.

Their specific complaint is with the statutory nature of the SJNC which requires agreement backed by the force of law, effectively giving both sides a veto.

Mr Galbraith told Parliament recently: "The laws of the land should be made here, not in a negotiating committee."

He added this week: "The major task facing the McCrone committee is to reinforce the need for change in the teaching profession. Change is not an attack on the profession which I continue to hold in high esteem."

Leading article, page 14 Peace deal was sealed by lifting freeze on public sector pay and offering last minute concessions to EIS.

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