The UK day of action looms

A planned strike over pensions on 30 November would mean disruption for schools nationwide

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Scottish schools could face widespread disruption on the UK national day of action by public sector unions, if teachers vote to strike over pensions in a wave of ballots during the coming weeks.

The UK action has been set for 30 November, St Andrew's Day, which would leave only Renfrewshire and Angus schools unaffected. They are the sole authorities to observe Scotland's patron saint's day and give council employees the day off work, after the Scottish Government declared it a national holiday two years ago.

Elsewhere, the risk of schools shutting is growing as more and more unions hold ballots.

The primary heads' union, the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, announced last week that it was holding its first-ever ballot on industrial action.

Scotland's largest union, the EIS, is in the process of balloting almost 55,000 members, while the UK-wide NASUWT will hold a ballot in mid- November. The largely-English Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) has a small number of members in Scotland, and the University and College Union will ballot its members who are in the teachers' pension scheme.

However, a split has opened up between these unions and others that have opted to "wait and see" the outcome of the talks between the Westminster Government and the TUC.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association says it will only move to a ballot once the UK Government's proposals are known and if the Government attempts to impose detrimental changes to teachers' pension arrangements.

School Leaders Scotland, which represents heads and deputes in secondary, is allied to the equivalent English union, the Association of School and College Leaders, which has so far held back from balloting its members.

School Leaders Scotland general secretary Ken Cunningham said there was "still a lot of water to flow under the bridge" and that his organisation did not want to make decisions on "unknowns". SLS members' views would be canvassed after their annual conference in November, he said. The association was "absolutely against" the proposed changes to pension arrangements, he insisted, and ASCL was keeping them "in complete touch" with the negotiations in London.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of AHDS, objected to the fact that the pace of negotiations was being dictated by the Westminster Government. With all the discussions being held in London, there was "no seat for us to sit at, to make our views heard on this or engage in negotiations", he said.

He added that his members were in a "fairly unanimous mood" in their opposition to pension changes.

"They really are horrified at the changes proposed, both the increase in contributions and the fact that promoted members of staff are going to be hit harder by the increased contributions - at a time of a pay freeze. I don't think there is a firm foundation for saying these increases are needed, because there has not been an evaluation of the scheme," he said.

But he acknowledged his 1,400 members, covering a little over half of Scotland's primaries, were not unanimous in their support for strike action.

"Some of our members are absolutely ideologically opposed to taking strike action. Most of them would respect the fact that others want to make their voices heard in that way, but strike action is not for them," he explained.

Ballot deadlines

EIS closes Thursday 3 November

AHDS closes Thursday 3 November

NASUWT closes Thursday 17 November

ATL closes Tuesday 8 November

UCU closes Friday 18 November.

Photo credit: Mark Shenley

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