The March meeting of EIS Council was held as the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia continued to dominate global events. President Heather Hughes opened the meeting by condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and expressing solidarity with Ukrainian people and in particular, teachers, educators, lecturers, pupils and students.

Council approved a decision to make a £50,000 donation to the EI solidarity fund which aims to support refugees, particularly children, displaced by the ongoing war.

President-elect Andrene Bamford delivered the report of Executive Committee, advising Council that regular meetings of the strategy committee would be held to take forward the campaign for a 10% pay increase for the year 2022-2023. Ms Bamford reported on the first meeting of the Digital Review Working Group, which had agreed to purchase video conference facilities to support hybrid meetings (in person and remote) in the future. She also highlighted the launch of the national EIS Manifesto for the Scottish parliament elections which was published on the morning of Council. Local versions were also being tailored to support local campaigning on key issues, said Ms Bamford. See pages 15-18 for more on the EIS Manifesto.

Covid

General Secretary Larry Flanagan updated Council on the previous day’s meeting of the Covid Education Recovery Group (CERG). It has been announced at that meeting that it was the final time that CERG would meet – this had come as a surprise to the EIS, said Mr Flanagan, which had not been consulted on this decision. The Scottish Government and COSLA had agreed between themselves to call a halt to CERG without consulting other group members, he said. Instead, there will be monthly meetings of Officials to review data.

Mr Flanagan said that these changes highlighted that the Scottish Government is set on the path of removing Covid mitigations, due for late March. Essentially this means that most Covid mitigations will be removed, and guidance will replace statute in many areas. The EIS has raised concerns over this, as we have already seen significant variance in practice across the country, which is likely to become even more of an issue once regulations are lifted. The EIS has also raised significant concerns over the removal of the availability of testing in schools, which is likely to increase risk of further significant outbreaks. There has been a surge in infections in recent weeks, with another new variant (Omicron B) making up the vast majority of new cases.

Andrew Fullwood (Glasgow) said, “Would like to say that I was surprised that CERG is being wound up, but I am not surprised at all. Authorities are already making assumptions of ‘back to business as usual’ at the end of March. This highlights the importance of Health & Safety Reps, where the EIS should look at building on the capacity that we already have by training more H&S Reps.”

Nicola Fisher (Glasgow) added, “I never cease to be disgusted by the wishful thinking on the part of government. It’s all political – it’s not about safety, and shows a cavalier disregard for the safety of people in schools. COSLA and the Scottish Government are in cahoots displaying a total disregard for the welfare of staff and pupils in schools. If education recovery was so important to them as they claim, they wouldn’t be doing this – absences on the part of staff and students will derail education recovery. There is more Covid than ever in our schools, which is a huge concern. It is unbelievable that they are getting rid of testing in schools in these circumstances.”

Vice-President elect Paula McEwan (Inverclyde) said, “We need to push against the mitigations being lifted. The back to business as usual doesn’t mean that we are recovered as a sector – our members are still being impacted and young people are still being affected.”

Alison Murphy (Edinburgh) said, “Clinically vulnerable staff are increasingly terrified by what is going on, and the increased risk they are being placed in as mitigations are removed.”

Susan Quinn (Glasgow) expressed serious concerns that special leave arrangements for Covid and long-Covid might be discontinued, and that Covid absences would then be treated like any other sickness absence. “We need assurances that there will still be special leave arrangements”, she said.

General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “We will write to the Cabinet Secretary highlighting all of the concerns raised by Council. We must challenge the business as usual agenda, which too many councils are already looking to implement.”

Claire Robertson (Edinburgh) and Anne-Marie McDermott (Glasgow) raised concerns about the mixed message of EIS opposing lifting of mitigations, but planning for a return to in-person Committee, Executive and Council meetings. The President responded that this is remaining under review, and Executive was aware of the concerns around this.

Larry Flanagan added, “A return to physical meetings is a balancing act, weighing up the benefits versus the risks. There will be facility for people to attend remotely if they so wish. We are planning for a physical AGM in June, and holding Committees and Council in person is an initial step towards this.”

Pay offer ballot

Delivering his Salaries Committee report, Convener Des Morris confirmed that the Teachers’ Panel of the SNCT had agreed, unanimously, to submit a pay claim for a 10% increase for 2022-2023. No response had yet been received from the employer, he added.

Public sector pay policy remains extremely restrictive, he said. Public sector pay policy equates to 1.25% for the majority of our members for the current year.

On the current, outstanding, pay claim for last year, Mr Morris confirmed that members had rejected the previous offer by 98% to 2% on a 53% turnout. This had led to the revised, slightly improved offer on which the EIS was about to ballot members.

Mr Morris then went on to set out the reasons behind the decision of Salaries Committee that members should vote to accept the new, slightly improved offer.

Mr Morris cited the disappointing 53% turnout in the recent consultative ballot, and requirement to secure a much stronger turnout in a statutory ballot to secure support for any industrial action. Mr Morris referenced the Value Education, Value Teachers campaign – which was extremely long running – as the model that is needed to secure a reasonable pay deal for teachers.

That will be the focus of the campaign for the year ahead, he said, but “we should keep our tinder dry, rather than risk everything at the present time.” He highlighted that some of our fellow unions had taken the risk to ballot without sufficient preparatory work, and had then paid the price with poor ballot results, lack of mandate for industrial action, and then being forced to accept even poorer pay settlements.

Mr Morris added, “Purdah in the elections begins next month, and COSLA will cease to be available for negotiations until June at the earliest and most likely later. The Committee has taken the view that it is important to secure some money for members now, unsatisfactory though it is, and then move forward with building a major campaign – based on the 10% claim for next year – for the year ahead.”

He continued, “I readily admit that the current offer does not make for happy reading. The national insurance rise will swallow up a significant part, which is unavoidable.

“We cannot ignore the fact that this pay claim is for last year, when inflation was far lower. Council budgets were based on last year’s financial realities and, at this point, have been spent for the year covered by this pay claim.”

Andrew Fullwood (Glasgow) moved an amendment, calling for the decision to recommend acceptance to be overturned and for members to be, instead, balloted for industrial action.

Pic Alan Richardson www.pix-ar.co.uk EIS Conference In Dundee

He said, “It has taken over a year to get to this position. If we accept this offer, people at the top of the pay scale will get an extra £13 in their pocket. The back pay element will be derisory, at around £300 for most members. This is not a good pay rise, it is not something we should be accepting or encouraging our members to accept. If we accept this offer, COSLA will be laughing after they have dragged these negotiations out for more than a year and then delivered such a pitiful pay rise.”

He added, “We would need to work hard to get the turnout and get the result, but that’s what unions do. We can win this, and we can win this now. We don’t have to wait to start the fight – COSLA needs to be shaken and forced to take us seriously. We need to get our members angry, and have a fight on pay during the election.”

Seconding the proposed amendment, David Farmer (Fife) said, “Our members, particularly younger teachers, are already feeling the pinch due to the cost of living crisis. If we are going to fight for a better pay deal, why are we not fighting now? How do we know that the ground will be any better next year? This is affecting our members now, in a very real sense. All of the members I have spoken to have been scathing about this pay offer – there is no need to wait, we need to get on with the campaign for a decent pay deal.”

Salaries Vice-Convener Mick Dolan (West Dunbartonshire) spoke against the amendment, saying “There is no difference in our fundamental ambitions to secure a respectable and restorative pay deal for teachers. Putting energy in to encouraging members to vote in ballots is vital, as it strengthens the union’s position. If we embark on a ballot and do not get a good result, it will be extremely damaging. The difference is not about ambition, it is about tactics. It is better to focus our energies on building a campaign based around our 10% claim for 2022. It is essential that we get this right.”

Valerie Inkster (Shetland) said, “We are all passionate about getting the best for our members. I have spoken to many teachers since the recommendation of Salaries Committee, to see how members feel. And members say that they cannot wait any longer, they need some money in their pocket now. Members are also extremely concerned about the potential impact of industrial action on young people, who have already suffered severe disruption to their education over the past two years. If we move to a ballot for action, will we get a mandate?”

Nicola Fisher (Glasgow), said, “This is a really difficult decision, and I can see the logic on both sides. A lot of members are really angry about this offer, and many are not convinced by the ‘Jam tomorrow’ argument. How easy will it be to motivate our members to fight for 10% after we accept this inferior offer?”

Vice-President elect Paula McEwan (Inverclyde) said, “The turnout in the reject consultative ballot was highly variable across the country, despite all the publicity around the importance of using your vote. Can we deliver a credible threat of strike action at the present time? We are drawing a line under last year, so that we can fight for this year. I agree that the offer is rubbish, but it’s the best we are going to get in the circumstances.”

James McIntye (East Dunbartonshire) said, “Many members will see this as selling out. I have already heard from members who view it in those terms. This isn’t good enough for our members, so I will be backing the amendment and the move to industrial action.”

Asif Chisti (Fife) said, “Sometimes, as EIS Reps, we have to give honest advice that our members will not like. This is one of those cases. If we were to have a statutory ballot, that was then lost, this would be catastrophic for this pay deal and for all future pay negotiations.”

Heather Hughes (speaking as an individual, not as President), said, “The people on Salaries Committee who voted for this recommendation made a very hard decision. If we move to ballot, and lose, we are finished. This is absolutely not ‘selling out’ – we are committed to a 10% pay claim for this year – but we need to settle last year’s claim before we can move forward. We need to build a strong narrative going forward, and build our campaign for 10%.”

In Summing up for the proposed Amendment, Andrew Fullwood said, “It is important that we had this debate. Whether you decide to move to industrial action ballot now, or later, the fact remains that we will have to prepare for it. We can build on past successes and build very strong strike action.”

Summing up for the original recommendation, Des Morris said, “This has been a very good, and very important, debate. Scottish teachers are the only public sector workers in Scotland whose pay claim for 2021 has not yet been settled. I have real concerns about turnout and meeting the thresholds if we move to an industrial action ballot. We want to get more money for our members – by securing a settlement for this year, increasing the baseline for this year’s negotiations, and then moving forward with our 10% claim.”

Following the debate, the President called for the vote and Council members overwhelmingly – by 72 votes to 15 – backed the recommendation of Salaries Committee to ballot members on the offer with a recommendation to accept.