The teachers' pay claim of 4.7 per cent for 1998 was overshadowed this week by the millennium review and its task groups on management and funding. Neither unions nor employers are keen to reach an early settlement ahead of the publication of the review reports in April, although they are unlikely to influence this year's settlement.
Both sides are together studying the future of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, the promoted structure and the way ahead for teacher pay.
The Educational Institute of Scotland, however, has declared it is willing to negotiate a longer term approach to pay "which will attract and retain high quality practitioners". The employers view this negotiating chink optimistically.
Ronnie Smith, the institute's general secretary, warned that starting salaries for teachers were below those of other graduates. "Sooner or later we shall face a recruitment problem as young graduates, burdened by debt from fees and loans for student maintenance, do their sums and recognise that other careers offer much better lifetime earnings," Mr Smith said.
Elizabeth Maginnis, the employers' leader, who has slammed the pay claim as "completely unrealistic", said the unions were faced with the Government's failure for the fifth year running to provide no extra for teachers' salaries.
Mrs Maginnis emphasised the "big gap" between the 4.7 per cent claim and the 2.6 per cent award for teachers south of the border.
But Mr Smith said all four unions on the teachers' side agreed on a common claim. "This unity of approach is unprecedented," he said.
"This is an eminently reasonable claim. We ask for no more and no less of an increase than workers generally are receiving, Scottish teachers are doing an outstanding job in very difficult circumstances. There is an onus on their local authority employers to demonstrate to their teachers that they are capable of delivering a fair wage for the work done."
The EIS says a teacher's salary has risen by 30.3 per cent since the start of the decade while average earnings have grown by 40.5 per cent. The starting salary for an honours graduate would be pound;15,035 if it had kept pace with pay rises elsewhere, instead of pound;13,944. It puts the average starting salary of a graduate last year at pound;15,462, 10.9 per cent more than the equivalent for a graduate teacher.
After accepting a 2.5 per cent award last year, Mr Smith said the lid could not be kept on the pressure cooker much longer. "The pressure is building which could lead to the cyclical conflicts we have had in the past."
comment, page 19