Union split grows over pay action

15th October 1999 at 01:00
A TACTICAL split between the two major unions involved in the teachers' pay and conditions dispute is threatening to undermine classroom unity before the first cross on the first ballot paper.

The Educational Institute of Scotland is also facing the embarrassment of changing its proposed day of action on November 30 to December 2, days after announcing the high-profile launch of its industrial action campaign.

The Scottish Parliament, the likely focus of a mass demonstration, would have been on holiday, celebrating St Andrew's Day. Teachers in the SNP stronghold of Angus and former fortress of Perth and Kinross, also on holiday, and would not have lost a day's pay, unlike other strikers.

A split in tactics has also emerged. The EIS will ballot members later this month on a simple question of industrial action, likely to mean a programme of rolling one-day strikes. In contrast, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association will add a second question on a work to contract.

Jim Docherty, the SSTA's assistant secretary, said the strategy would be a "work to normal but within a 35-hour limit to the working week". The union will send detailed guidelines to members about what they can and cannot do if they work to contract after taking part in a day of action.

The EIS believes such a tactic could be messy, localised and open to challenge. It is therefore backing national strikes.

Ronnie Smith, the EIS's general secretary, said the aim of the action was multi-purpose. "It is not solely on the question of the 1999 pay claim. It is also about the removal of bargaining rights and the creation of an unbalanced committee of inquiry with a limited remit, the implications for future pay and conditions and the way the ground is being laid for unacceptable pay and conditions."

The McCrone inquiry, Mr Smith said, would "not magic up a pot of gold" and any recommendations would have to return to a forum of employers, teachers and the Government for agreement.

The committee of inquiry, under Professor Gavin McCrone, a former senior Scottish Office civil servant, met for the first time on Tuesday and agreed to take written submissions. It will tour schools and commission research into alternative structures on pay and conditions.

Mr Smith welcomed the late addition of Campbell Christie, former STUC general secretary, to the inquiry team. But he added: "The continuing exclusion of teachers' representatives from any locus in the committee, while employers enjoy both a direct presence and also an advisory role, is unfair and will undermine confidence in the whole process."

Meanwhile the employers are likely to reconvene the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee within two weeks following last week's breakdown which prompted the unions' strike ballots. The unions were angered there was no pay offer after they submitted their demand.

The employers made no formal offer, although informally they insist 3 per cent is still their maximum. The unions are publicly sticking to 8 per cent but unofficially are negotiating on between 4 and 6 per cent. Average earnings are running at 4.4 per cent, according to EIS figures.

The employers are certain to table an offer of around 3 per cent. Some councils could afford to dip into reserves to meet a 3.5 per cent offer but others insist that is way beyond the limit without any promises of changes to conditions.

The EIS draws no distinction between the employers and the Scottish Executive and demands to know why there is not at least 3.5 per cent on offer, the figure in the original linked package of pay and conditions that was rejected by 98 per cent of teachers.

Mixed messages about the role of Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, continue to filter through the political grapevine. As a possible arbiter in a dispute between the two sides, Mr Galbraith remains cautious about joining the fray directly. But soundings indicate that he may be prepared to inject several million to settle this year's pay round before the real battles begin next year.

Letters, page 2

Leader, page 20

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