Parent leaders won't back school strikes

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
Parents are unlikely to support a teacher strike in defence of conditions of service, Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, warned the unions this week.

The council was instrumental in bringing thousands of parents on to the streets of the capital four years ago, joining teachers in an unprecedented 40,000-strong demonstration against cuts in local authority services and turning up the heat on the Tory government.

But Mrs Gillespie emphasised that the council had not supported teachers over their workload campaign and was likely to remain neutral if national action proceeds in December.

The Scottish School Board Association also emphasised its opposition to strikes. A spokesman pleaded: "Please wait and give the committee of inquiry a chance. Do not jump to conclusions."

Mrs Gillespie said: "Teachers are complaining about the number of hours directed by management. It's coming over that they are being asked to work 35 hours a week for 39 weeks a year. That's the teachers' Achilles' heel as regards parents' support. They have not got the message across."

Ninety per cent of parents, as yet, would know nothing about a possible strike until they received a letter home. "At that point they'll be very angry. The question is who will that anger be with? A strike is not in the interests of children and parents."

In an article for The TES Scotland three weeks ago, Mrs Gillespie condemned the employers' proposals for reform of pay and conditions. Salary increases were not generous and restructuring plans were confused, she said.

But Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said he believed parents would be sympathetic to teachers who had received no pay increase for 18 months while the Government was kicking away negotiating rights.

"Parents are not easily seduced by anti-teacher rhetoric and they have a better understanding than most as to what the teacher's job entails," Mr Smith said.

The EIS, the lead union, will meet employers at the reconvened Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee on Monday and is likely to be faced with a pay offer of 3.5 per cent for the current year, below its demands but above councils' going rate. That is unlikely to head off at least a one-day strike since the union's target is now the Scottish Executive and its remit for the McCrone inquiry.

Although ministers have dismissed talk about injecting up to pound;10 million to raise the offer from 3 per cent, it is still believed extra cash is available. Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, says he remains on the touchline ready to help if necessary.

Mr Smith said there was no mention of pay when the EIS met Mr Galbraith on Tuesday, as part of a series of meetings involving major players in the negotiations. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the SPTC and other unions also met him this week.

Leading article, page 18

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