Victory on contracts

Local authorities have lost the first round in their bid to place teachers on the same footing as other council staff.

An industrial tribunal has ruled that South Lanarkshire acted unlawfully in changing terms and conditions inherited from Strathclyde Region, because they formed part of teachers' contracts.

The council had run into bitter opposition from the Educational Institute of Scotland in its attempt to overhaul grievance and dismissal procedures.

Other councils were planning similar changes which, among other things, would have allowed a director of education not the education committee to dismiss a teacher, although there was to be a right of appeal to the same subcommittee of councillors which sits in judgment on other staff.

The ruling also stalls the plans of at least three other authorities that were awaiting the outcome of the South Lanarkshire case. They are Edinburgh, Argyll and Bute, and Dumfries and Galloway The decision is a particular snub for Pat Watters, chair of South Lanarkshire's personnel committee, who is an influential adviser in national negotiations involving council staff.

Mr Watters argued that the council wanted to improve conditions, introducing for the first time an internal right of appeal against dismissal. At present an education committee's decision to sack a teacher, in the rare cases where it is exercised, is final.

Mr Watters recently warned teachers' leaders they were in "the last chance saloon" if they wanted to negotiate new conditions before changes were imposed. He was unavailable for comment but a spokesperson said the council was "obviously disappointed. All we were trying to do was to introduce consistent and fair procedures for all employees." The council would study the judgment in detail before deciding on a response.

The EIS said South Lanarkshire should learn lessons from its "crude attempt to impose unilateral changes to conditions of service", and hoped it would respect the tribunal's findings.

Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, said the ruling sent "a message to teachers' employers throughout Scotland that, if they try to undermine teachers' conditions arbitrarily, the EIS will use every means at its disposal to protect these conditions. Teachers should be entitled to a full and fair hearing whenever any aspect of their work is questioned."

This was a veiled warning to education authorities that have entered talks in the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee determined to emerge with more local bargaining control over conditions which are currently subject to national agreements.

"If employers are serious about more local bargaining, they must recognise that negotiation and not imposition is the way forward," Mr Smith said. "South Lanarkshire has learnt that the hard way."

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