An offer worth accepting

11th September 2015 at 01:00

Public sector unions have borne the brunt of austerity measures and faced difficult decisions around pay. Nevertheless, unions have to manage that reality with tough decisions. The recommendation that EIS members support the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers’ (SNCT) revised offer from employers is a pragmatic one.

Chancellor George Osborne has anticipated cuts that will have an impact on the money available to the Scottish government. He set out a 1 per cent public sector pay policy for the next four years; the same holds true north of the border.

Guidance to the teachers’ pay-review body in England and Wales seeks to limit growth in the pay bill to 1 per cent. This is likely to mean more performance-related awards for some, funded by pay freezes for others, and an end to incremental progression.

The 2.5 per cent award over two years is now clear and will boost pay this year. Discussions have clarified that 1.5 per cent can be paid, backdated to 1 April, surpassing awards across most of the public sector and what will be available to local government employees and teachers in England and Wales.

This is not a restorative award. The EIS has estimated that teachers lag some 12 per cent (based on the Retail Price Index) behind relative values. These were established by the final pay element in 2003 of the 2001 agreement, A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century.

But there is little appetite for the sustained industrial action needed to ratchet up an improved offer which, given local government finances, would be marginal at best.

Progress has been made on non-pay elements. Local authorities body Cosla has been keen to look at improvements in the administration of supply before committing to a further review of supply teachers’ pay and conditions. The package offers the opportunity to consider their pay and conditions in time for the second year of the deal.

Workload has been the central concern for teachers in recent years. The statement agreed by the SNCT will commit all schools, as part of improvement plans, to look at bureaucracy and workload. The message is getting through that current demands are not sustainable.

Although the SNCT cannot require the Scottish Qualifications Authority to reduce its demands on teachers, it is clear that all three parties to the statement on workload agree on the way forward. We hope the SQA is listening.

Outside the SNCT framework agreement, but of critical importance, the first minister recently confirmed that teacher numbers will be maintained beyond the current agreement with Scotland’s 32 councils. This is a necessary precondition of improving standards.

The period of negotiation is at an end. A protracted dispute on pay is not in members’ interests. The time is right to endorse the revised offer.

Drew Morrice is EIS assistant secretary and represented teachers in negotiations over pay and conditions

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