Pay, pay, pay - but not this year

6th June 1997 at 01:00
If the Conservatives had been back in power, we would have been commenting on the last teachers' pay award to be arrived at by direct bargaining. There is little doubt that electoral triumph would have led to speedy action on the promise to look at the future of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee. A decision-making body representing the interests of the Conservatives' twin hates - local government and the unions - would have little chance of surviving. This week's conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland would have been dominated by last-ditch efforts to keep its SJNC power base.

The Government has no plans to reform the SJNC, at least not yet. For new Labour there can be no ideological preference in direct bargaining compared with an independent pay advisory body. Even for union-oriented old Labour, all the cards do not lie with the SJNC. Apart from the EIS the teacher unions are not committed to it. That is because they are in a permanent minority on the teachers' side. The EIS calls the shots. When the award is modest, as with this year's 2.5 per cent, the smaller unions can allege EIS pusillanimity and publicly oppose the settlement - the recruitment-seeking privilege of those excluded from real influence.

Much ink is spilt on comparing settlements north and south of the border with a view to promoting either direct bargaining or an independent review. The truth is that there are minor differences between salaries for similar posts. Conditions of service remain more prescriptive in Scotland, the result not of recent political muscle but of 20-year-old history. Whether that is a bonus is a topic to be debated in the new review group representing the local authorities and the unions.

Look back a few months. Councils said they could not afford a penny over 2 per cent. They have found enough for an extra half a per cent. The unions argue that once again they have been restrained in their demands, conscious of the pressure on local government and anxious to see what Labour ministers will do about "education, education, education". But they speak ominously of the lid being kept on a pressure-cooker. The truth is that inflation remains under control, there is no teacher shortage and pay awards are small, but they must always be preceded by posturing and accompanied by dire warnings.

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