Time out for pay;Leading Article

15th October 1999 at 01:00
THE parliamentary recess and the mid-term school holidays, spread over two weeks, are connected. MSPs, unlike their counterparts at Westminster, are presumed to belong to normal families and have sensible work patterns. Whether they have too much time away from the debating chamber is a matter for the popular press, but the current political quiet time, with attention shifted to the reshuffle in London, has come at a useful point in the teachers' dispute.

The collapse of the talks on restructuring and subsequent union ballots have meant that the pay talks are much more embittered than for years. Teachers are having to wait a long time for an award due to start last April. The threat to the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee has worsened the atmosphere at its deliberations. For several years pay negotiations turned on a few decimal points around the inflation figure, and there were many sighs of resignation but few outbursts of passion. A soured atmosphere has changed all that.

Yet the real scenario is little different. With principal teachers secure in their posts, large composite classes kept at bay and hours of work left untouched, negotiations are confined to a straight pay award. The teachers' claim of

8 per cent is absurd - not unjustified but well beyond what councils could pay or government countenance. The putative offer of 3 per cent is more realistic - not of course enough but what councils have in their budgets. It has been dismissed out of hand and the talk is of industrial action.

We are or should be still a long way from that. It is hard to see teachers winning support for disruption if a final offer was to be around 3.5 per cent, for that would equate with other pay increases. Pervasive bad temper and accusations of bad faith should not be a springboard for strikes. That is why a brief period free of rhetoric is welcome.

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