At the time of writing, and as we head towards the Christmas holiday period, Scotland’s teachers are still awaiting a pay settlement that should have been applied to their salaries from the start of April. The failure of COSLA and the Scottish Government to make a fair pay offer to teachers has led to a dispute, an overwhelming vote for strike action, and a historic day of national strike action.
In this edition, we look back at that incredible day of strike action, when Scotland’s teachers formed picket lines outside schools across Scotland and turned out at pay campaign rallies in their many thousands. It was a day of collective action, with EIS members in all schools and at all grades of post making a stand and sending a clear message to their employers and to government.
Following the initial day of national strike action on 24 November, which closed all schools across mainland Scotland, the EIS opted not to take strike action during December. We had no desire to impact on the many festive activities taking place in schools, which are important to pupils, their families and the entire school community.
The EIS also hoped that this period, post-strike, would create a window for further negotiation in the hope of reaching a fair pay settlement to end the dispute. At the time of writing, a little over 1-week after the first strike day, the signs are not positive. Since the strike took place, both COSLA and the Scottish Government have been repeating their same tired lines, claiming that the pay deal cannot be enhanced. The EIS knows that money can be found, if the government so wishes – it is a matter of political priorities. Just as this SEJ was about to go to press, an Audit Commission report was published highlighting that the Scottish Government had actually underspent on last year’s budget – to the tune of two Billion pounds.
Yet, the Scottish Government would have us believe that it is operating within a “fixed budget” and that “every single penny has already been allocated” for the year. Imagine how far an additional £2 billion would go in reaching fair pay settlements with teachers, and other key public sector employees.
But having dithered, delayed and dragged the negotiation process on for the best part of a year, COSLA and the Scottish Government look again to be squandering the time available to reach a fair agreement which can end strike action.
Teachers do not want to strike, and only take strike action as a last resort. The fact that the move to strike action was backed so overwhelmingly is a clear indication of the level of anger and frustration amongst Scotland’s teaching professionals. A Scottish Government that wanted to be judged on education has forced Scotland’s teachers into the first national strike over pay since the Thatcher era of the 1980s, aided and abetted by COSLA who have deployed similar anti-trade union rhetoric and attempts at intimidatory strike-breaking tactics as that same 1980s Thatcher government.
Rather than resort to managerialism and anti-trade union spin, the Scottish Government and COSLA need to listen to Scotland’s teachers and work with the EIS and our sister trade unions to reach a fair pay agreement. We have made many constructive suggestions during the negotiation period, and demonstrated how a fair pay settlement can be afforded. The STUC has also been active on this issue, with its recent report ‘Scotland deserves better’ highlighting how the Scottish Government could raise billions in extra revenue to support public services.
The EIS, our sister trade unions, and Scotland’s teachers are determined to secure an improved, fair pay settlement for all of Scotland’s teachers. The Scottish Government and COSLA must come back with a much better pay offer to settle this dispute – the ball is in their court, and they must now stop playing for time and get serious about making a credible offer that can lead to an agreement.
Season’s greetings from the SEJ
We would like to wish our readers all the very best for the festive season, and a Happy New Year when it comes. This edition includes our annual End of Year quiz, which we hope you will find time to enjoy over the holiday period – see pp15-18 for this year’s version.