Stuck teachers' pay docked

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
Cash turns to ash as councils take a hard line with those stranded by volcanic eruption

Nine local authorities are to dock pay from teachers stranded abroad because of the volcanic ash cloud that hung over Europe this week, TESS enquiries have revealed, provoking fury from unions.

Argyll and Bute, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Fife, Midlothian, North Lanarkshire, Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire said teachers' time away from school would be treated as unpaid leave. Thirteen councils were undecided, including Edinburgh.

Glasgow is the only authority which has no plans to dock pay. The council said it would not "seek to penalise people for something that's outwith their control" - earning it previously unheard of praise from the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) as "a model of good practice".

The union called for all councils to treat the absences as special paid leave. Some authorities said teachers would be offered the chance to make up the hours they missed.

The TESS survey found that by midweek 3,421 teachers from 22 local authorities had failed to return to work following the Easter break, when ash from an Icelandic volcano caused flights in and out of the UK to be grounded. Schools in nine authorities went back last week, and so avoided much of the chaos.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS, said: "It would be very, very unfortunate if local authorities decided to rub salt into the wounds of the travel misery people are suffering in circumstances completely outwith their control."

The EIS had proposed that "swine flu" contingency plans be activated at national level, as an alternative to docking pay. This would have relaxed teachers' terms and conditions of service, allowing them to teach larger classes and work longer hours to cover for colleagues. However, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities rejected the offer, arguing it was a matter for local negotiation.

East Renfrewshire appeared to take the hardest line of any Scottish authority. It sent a letter on Tuesday to all headteachers advising that "teaching staff who are absent . will not be paid for the period they are unable to attend work".

The letter also said "periods of unpaid leave are not reckonable for superannuation purposes".

A spokesman said the council appreciated that the situation was not the fault of staff but, in the "extremely tight financial world", it could not treat teachers differently from other council employees who were not being paid.

The EIS, however, argued that teachers were being treated differently since, unlike other council staff, they could not take leave outside school holiday periods.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, urged councils to be "sympathetic" in light of the "heroic efforts" made by staff to get back to work on time.

If cover has to be found for all the stranded teachers, it will land councils with a bill of more than pound;800,000 a day in supply costs. A Scottish Government spokeswoman said absence arrangements were a matter for local authorities.

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