Pay and conditions at risk

3rd September 2010 at 01:00
Unions braced for toughest negotiations in decades as three-year deal draws to a close

A freeze on teachers' pay and drastic changes to their conditions of service are being discussed by Scotland's local authorities.

Sources within the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland have told The TESS that a pay freeze, the removal of nursery teachers, cuts to subject options, larger classes and no CPD in school time are being contemplated.

With the teachers' current three-year agreement on pay and conditions due to run out in March next year, the unions are bracing themselves for their most difficult negotiations in decades.

It is known that Cosla has a working group looking specifically at the issue of teachers' conditions, and that ADES has also been examining ways of cutting costs related to teacher employment. Their argument is that, by saving money on teacher employment costs, they may be able to save some areas of education services which would otherwise be threatened.

One ADES insider told The TESS that there was a great deal of antipathy within Cosla and even within other local government unions towards teachers, because the 2001 post-McCrone agreement had awarded them benefits not available to other local authority employees.

Councils claim that the teachers' second three-year pay deal had stood in the way of a better settlement for other employees. It forced them to give teachers a 2.4 per cent salary increase this year, leaving less money to increase other staff pay at a time when budgets were tighter than expected.

"There is a feeling that, in recent years, lower-paid staff have borne the brunt of cuts and efficiency savings," said the ADES source.

Cosla leaders have also cited the Springer case, an EU ruling which meant that women could accrue holiday rights on their return to work from maternity leave. Teachers' conditions have hugely increased costs for councils as a result of this judgment because, although all local government employees benefit from it, teachers have longer holidays.

A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities was circumspect in his comments, saying only: "Given the significant amount of expenditure that is related to the pay bill, local government is looking very carefully at every element of its workforce costs.

"We're committed to discussing nationally with the Government and the relevant trade unions ways of doing this which will protect vital services and jobs."

Glasgow declared its hand this week by calling for longer class contact hours from teachers, but education directors suggest the council was only saying what others were thinking.

Gordon Matheson, the leader of Glasgow City Council and a former education convener there, said he wanted teachers to spend an additional 30 minutes a day in contact with their classes - a move his authority estimates would save it pound;15 million annually, while still leaving teachers with 10 hours' paid preparation time every week.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said these comments, effectively renegotiating the teachers' agreement, were "unhelpful and misplaced".

A pay freeze for all local government staff is said to be definitely on the cards, but other areas of potential education savings which council leaders want to bring to the table include larger class sizes, cutting the number of subject options, introducing more remote or online teaching of senior pupils, a reduction of absence cover and management time, shared headships on an area basis, school closures, fewer nursery teachers, and confining continuing professional development to out-of-school hours.

Mr Smith commented: "There is a reasonable recognition of the gravity of the situation we are likely to face when the Government's spending review comes. However, I would warn those who have been harbouring a long grudge or dislike of aspects of the teachers' agreement against misusing the current difficulties as a smokescreen for settling old scores."

The Westminster coalition Government is due to announce its spending review on October 20, and the Scottish Government will unveil its draft budget within four weeks of that date. The Scottish Parliament will be asked to approve spending plans, including the local government settlement, in February.

Chatroom, page 27

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