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.”