WITH NO END TO PAY DISPUTE IN SIGHT, COUNCIL DISCUSSES OPTIONS FOR ESCALATION
The January meeting of EIS Council took place as the dispute over teacher pay continued. As Council members gathered in Edinburgh, EIS members were in the midst of 16-days of rolling strike action across the country. On the day of the meeting, it was members in Falkirk and Renfrewshire who were on the picket lines making the case for an improved and fair pay settlement for Scotland’s teachers.
With EIS members in the midst of strike action, the majority of Council’s time was devoted to the pay dispute and possible next steps in the campaign – including discussion over possible escalation of action.
Salaries Convener Des Morris reported on recent meetings of the Salaries Committee, and on recent SNCT meetings.
Since the last report to Council, there had been 4 meetings of Extended Joint Chairs of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), in addition to a number of informal side meetings with the Scottish Government and COSLA.
Mr Morris made clear, “There is no revised offer on the table – the last offer we received was the November offer – which we quickly rejected – which was itself virtually the same as the August offer that our members overwhelmingly rejected in a ballot. That offer has an in-year value of 5.07%.
”Mr Morris referenced recent reports from the Fraser of Allander Institute, STUC and Auditor General which highlighted how the Scottish Government could fund a better pay rise for teachers and other public sector workers.
The EIS remains aware of attempts by other parties to sideline the SNCT, but has consistently agreed to meetings within the SNCT to attempt to move negotiations forward.
On negotiations, Mr Morris said, “We have indicated that we are open to discussing a multi-year deal in the interests of reaching an agreement – but only if the numbers add up, and reflect our commitment to pay restoration.
”Mr Morris added, “We have also discussed potentially moving the settlement date for teacher pay from April to August, which we believe may be in the long-term interest of our members. No agreement has been reached on any of these issues.
”The figure presented by the Scottish Government and COSLA at the SNCT EJC meeting in January was, once again, for 5% – a figure that was neither an improvement nor a figure that the EIS was prepared to work with.
A Joint union statement following that meeting of the SNCT EJC made clear that unions viewed the discussions as neither positive nor constructive – despite the repeated claims to the contrary by the Scottish Government and COSLA. No further meetings of the SNCT EJC were currently planned at the time of the Council meeting (nor at the time of publication of this edition of the SEJ).
Andrew Fullwood (Glasgow) asked, “Have we suggested a 2-year deal, or are we looking towards a 2-year deal, as a possible resolution to this dispute? We also have to look ahead to the pay claim for this year – will we be setting a pay claim for the year ahead soon?”
Mr Morris responded, “No-one is going to be bounced into a settlement. If we receive an offer that we can recommend to members, we will do that. We are not going to be pressured into accepting an inferior offer, and we are not going to put clearly unacceptable offers to our members. On a 2-year pay deal, we have raised that possibility in discussions – looking back at past agreements, multi-year deals are actually the norm rather than the exception. So we are not opposed to multi-year deals, as long as the figures add up. The pay claim for the coming year will be discussed at the next Salaries Committee – this has inevitably been impacted by the lack of settlement for the current year.”
Allan Crosbie (Edinburgh), said, “At the same time that the EJC was meeting to discuss pay, the First Minister was recording an interview with Laura Kuenssberg where she made misleading statements that enraged teachers. They are using talks as a smokescreen, to make it appear as though they are negotiating – when the opposite is true. I’d also like to ask about the spectre of imposition, which we have heard whispers about, and what would happen if the Scottish Government and COSLA do opt to pursue imposition on teachers?”
Mr Morris replied, “We have called out the Scottish Government and the First Minister on these issues, and will continue to do so in the strongest of terms. Imposition has not been raised in either formal or informal discussions – and our response, should it ever be raised, would be one of outrage and disgust. I truly hope that COSLA and the Scottish Government have the good sense not to attempt to go down that route.”
Vice-President Paula McEwan updated Council on the work of the Committee, and on the ongoing pay campaign.
Describing the high-profile EIS campaign of strike action, Ms McEwan said, “Unless you have been living under a stone – and if you are, watch out because the Cabinet Secretary is coming to turn over your stone – you will be very aware of everything that has been done in support of our campaign in recent weeks and months. The streets, social media, print and broadcast media have been awash with pink and green throughout our period of strike action – our members have been everywhere, pushing our campaign messages and making the clear case for an improved and fair pay settlement for all of Scotland’s teachers.
It is a phenomenal show of strength and determination from our members, who continue to support our action and turn out on pickets and at rallies in huge numbers.”
Adam Sutcliffe (Aberdeenshire) asked, “Members are increasingly asking why we are not looking at Action Short of Strike (ASOS) – why aren’t we looking at this option?”
Ms McEwan replied, “We can’t currently call members out on ASOS, this would require a fresh mandate in a ballot. We don’t currently have a mandate for this type of action.”
General Secretary Andrea Bradley added, “There is a perception that ASOS is easier for members to undertake – but the reality is that it isn’t. It opens individual members to the risk of being targeted by management, as they are acting individually rather than collectively if they take ASOS rather than strike action.”
General Secretary Report on the Pay Campaign
General Secretary Andrea Bradley provided an overview of the pay campaign thus far, and looked ahead to possible next steps.
Ms Bradley said, “The substance of our campaign is allowing us to challenge the spin and the anti-trade union rhetoric that has come from the Scottish Government, the Cabinet Secretary and the First Minister. There have been some disgraceful falsehoods coming from the Scottish Government, and we continue to fight back against that strongly.”
“The one-workforce agenda, which has been mainly pushed by COSLA in the past, has now seemingly been taken over by the Scottish Government. They have become the main cheerleaders for a policy that seeks to supress public sector pay to the lowest possible denominator.”
“It seems increasingly that, from their attitude and rhetoric, that this is about beating teachers and beating the EIS to continue with the suppression of public sector pay.”
Ms Bradley added, “The Scottish Government claims to support Fair Work and sector collective bargaining, but its actions tell a very different story.”
“The UK Government is also attempting to further curtail the right to strike of public sector workers, and education is one of the sectors covered by these new proposals. So, we are fighting on that front as well, working with colleagues through the TUC and STUC.”
The possible escalation of the dispute was the subject of questions to the General Secretary. Mick Dolan (West Dunbartonshire) asked, “Are we in a legitimate position to advise secondary teachers not to volunteer to become SQA markers?”
And Heather Hughes (Ex-President) asked, “Would it be possible for the EIS to consider asking Secondary members to consider delaying to agree signing up as SQA markers, until the pay dispute is resolved?”
The General Secretary replied, “This is a matter in which we have sought legal advice. Some secondary members elect to enter into individual contracts with the SQA as exam markers. This is a separate contractual arrangement than that that teachers have with local authorities. The EIS has no specific locus in the contractual arrangement between teachers and the SQA as markers. The legal advice that we have is that we can legally suggest to members that they consider delaying signing up as markers, if they have not yet done so, until the pay dispute is resolved. This could send a very strong message to the Scottish Government and others that teachers are not backing down until a fair pay settlement is reached. This would not technically be strike action nor Action Short of Strike, but it can be achieved legally.”
Mick Dolan (West Dunbartonshire) said, “An overall feeling of solidarity is a key part of this whole campaign, and this step would reinforce that feeling of solidarity.”
Jennifer Gaffney (South Lanarkshire) added, “This has been one of the most frequently raised issues with my members.”
Alison Murphy (Edinburgh) said, “I am very supportive of this idea. The SQA are already struggling to get markers – so our members delaying to sign up can have a significant impact.”
But Pamela Manley (Angus) said, “I am something of a dissenting voice on this issue. Many people have already signed up for the SQA, so this could be a divisive issue with some teachers working for the SQA and being paid for that work while others decline to sign up and are not paid. I think this is risky ground – keep us on safe ground, where all teachers are united and standing together.”
Eddie Burns (South Lanarkshire) added, “I think we need to be careful of the optics here. We are in the middle of a pay campaign, and the optics of asking our members to cut off a revenue stream might be difficult to justify. We also need to keep parents onside – once we get into the business of disrupting exams, that might cause us difficulty. I am not against the proposal, but the horse may have bolted at this point.”
General Secretary Andrea Bradley replied, “In seeking to do this, we are responding to what members are asking of us. Whenever we are in tricky territory, we always take very careful legal advice. There will be some public relations work to do with parents around this – as there already will be with our programme of strike action that is scheduled for the run-up to the exam period. SQA exams are an Achilles heel of the Scottish Government, and this is not something we would enter into lightly. It would send a strong signal to the Scottish Government that we are prepared to raise the stakes in this dispute, and they need to negotiate a fair deal to avoid this escalation.”
Ex-President Heather Hughes (West Lothian) said, “If we want to win it, we have to take a hard line and we have to escalate. That’s how we won it in the 1980s, and that’s how we will win it again. We need to stop worrying so much about who we upset – we are in a fight here, and we need to win it.”
The General Secretary added, “We continue to engage with political parties, and with parent bodies and others, to firm up their support for our strike action. Our current mandate would allow us to take targeted action, should that be an option that we wish to pursue in the future.”
In light of the growing cost of living crisis and the impact of strike deductions on pay, Convener David Baxter encouraged Council members to continue directing members facing hardship to the Benevolent Fund and thanked them for doing so. “The Benevolence fund can really help people who find themselves in awful situations through no fault of their own”, he said.
Convener Nicola Fisher updated Council on the roll out of LGBT inclusive education and the challenges colleagues have sometimes experienced in taking this forward. There is a clear obligation on all local authorities to roll this out, but tensions can occur. The EIS is creating guidance to assist in the roll out. Ms Fisher also highlighted a worrying rise in homophobic sentiments in the public discourse and online. A Sample survey of EIS LGBT members is forthcoming, she said.
Andrew Fullwood (Glasgow) moved and Nicola Fisher (Equality Convener) seconded a motion calling on the EIS to oppose plans for ‘minimum service levels’ during industrial action, as proposed by the UK government. The motion also called for the EIS to campaign against new anti-trade union laws with other trade unions, the STUC and the TUC. The motion was carried overwhelmingly by Council.