Pay talks on a knife-edge

11th February 2011 at 00:00
Fears remain that failure to agree teacher conditions could pave the way for industrial action

Talks at the Scottish teachers' national bargaining forum broke up this week without agreement.

Failure when they resume next week could open the way to potential strike action and locally-imposed pay and conditions.

But as The TESS went to press this week, hopes were still being kept alive that the three sides in the negotiations could find some common ground.

Teaching unions were making contingency plans in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government - the other two arms of the tripartite Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers - this week.

Teachers' pay, like that of all public sector workers, is to be frozen for two years. But the main sticking point for the unions was a failure by councils to give assurances on how they would deliver the 2,800 jobs promised in August under the November deal agreed by Cosla and the Scottish Government.

As talks opened, local authorities had also failed to make any concessions on their original demands for a freeze on entry to and progression through the chartered teacher programme, a change in the pay and conditions for short-term supply teachers, an increase in the number of probation teachers' class contact hours, a cut in sick pay, the removal of lifetime conserved salaries and a cut in annual paid leave entitlement.

Cosla insisted all the changes were required to make a saving of pound;60 million in the overall education budget.

Drew Morrice, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, explained the concessions required on the union side would have had to be immediate and permanent and made before councils moved to deliver their promised 2,800 jobs in August.

"The trade-off for the concessions is not sufficiently clear," he said, ahead of Wednesday's meeting of the SNCT.

The leadership of the EIS said that, in the event of the negotiations breaking down, its first step would be to consult its membership on whether to hold an indicative ballot for industrial action.

If the union's members gave the go-ahead, that would open the way to industrial unrest in the run-up to the Scottish elections, at a time when all parties will be trying to win teachers' votes.

The future of the SNCT itself could hinge on the outcome of the negotiations. Many local authorities are itching to see more local bargaining: in the worst case scenario, a council could give notice to all teachers in its employment and then re-employ them on a new set of conditions.

Glasgow City Council's leader, Gordon Matheson, has made no secret of his desire to tear up the national agreement. He has already said he wants to see all Glasgow teachers' class-contact hours increased by an hour a week - a move estimated to save pound;4.7m.

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