‘We don’t need a maths teacher to work out that teachers’ pay has been cut by a quarter over ten years’

By Bill Heaney in Edinburgh

The claim by local school teachers for an immediate ten per cent pay increase was supported during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday by Green Party joint leader Patrick Harvie.

Mr Harvie, a former pupil of Dumbarton Academy who represents Glasgow, told the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood: “We have had a great deal of discussion about the need to avoid a no-deal scenario, but that does not apply only to Brexit. It also applies to the Scottish Government’s responsibility in the face of the legitimate demands from teachers to restore the lost value of their wages, which have been cut by nearly a quarter over the past decade.

“Last month, when we might have expected only a few thousand people to march for a fair pay settlement for teachers, we saw 30,000 people take to the streets in Glasgow. This week, the results of the ballot on the pay offer are in: three quarters of those who were eligible to do so took part in the ballot, and the deal was rejected by an astonishing 98 per cent of them. None of us needs a maths teacher to help us to understand those numbers. Can the First Minister recall a more overwhelming democratic mandate from any section of the Scottish workforce?”

John Swinney, Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie.

Nicola Sturgeon replied: “I recognise the strength of feeling that teachers have expressed through their ballots. First, for the record, let me recap on the offer that was made. Through a combination of a basic pay award and progression, all teachers on the main grade scale were offered at least a 5 per cent increase, with some teachers being offered up to an 11 per cent increase. I acknowledge and respect that that offer has been rejected. As I said, I recognise the strength of feeling. The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities will go back to the table, and we will continue to seek a reasonable agreement in good faith.”

She added: “Let me make it very clear to teachers, their families and the wider Scottish public that the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills [John Swinney] and I want teachers to get a good pay rise that recognises the vital and difficult job that they do.

“It should not only recognise the current cost of living pressures but, as Patrick Harvie said, should start the process of restoration of the lost ground that all public sector workers have suffered because of years of pay restraint.

“However—this is a statement of simple fact that I hope all members will recognise—pay awards need to be affordable, because if they are not affordable, they cannot be delivered. I would love to give teachers and all public sector workers a 10 per cent pay rise, but that is simply not affordable in a single year.

“We need to go back to the table to agree a fair and affordable agreement—the Scottish Government will play our full part in that—just as the Scottish Government has reached agreement with nurses, other healthcare workers and police officers.”

Patrick Harvie said: “We all recognise that the Scottish Government does not act unilaterally on the issue, but it has a central role to play in the process, so it is reasonable to ask what the Government’s position is.

“I am glad that the First Minister respects the mandate that has been given by the rejection of the deal by 98 per cent of those who were balloted. The only conclusion to be drawn from that is that that deal need no longer be defended on its own terms. It is gone; it will not happen.

“We also know about the hard work and dedication of teachers up and down the country. They often go way above and beyond what is needed in a normal working week. We all want teaching to be an attractive and rewarding profession in which people feel valued for their hard work, but that is not happening. Huge numbers of teachers feel overworked, under resourced and demeaned, as they see the value of their salaries being eroded year after year.

“We all want to avoid the prospect of strike action, which would be the last resort for the teaching unions. However, if we accept that the offer that was made is dead and gone, and has been rejected, the choice is now simple. Will the Scottish Government force the teaching profession—who are already angry people—into industrial action that we should all try to avoid, or will it work towards a realistic offer, and give local councils the resources that they need to meet it? The choice is that simple. What is it going to be?”

The First Minister replied: “We want to see a realistic offer being made and accepted. As I said in my initial answer, I recognise and respect the fact that the offer that was made has been rejected, and that it was rejected overwhelmingly. I am not standing here trying to say anything else. That is why we will go back to the table and continue good-faith discussions.

“The Scottish Government has a big part to play in this: we are part of the tripartite negotiating process that is in place. In fact, the Scottish Government had put additional money on the table to fund the offer that was made previously, had it been accepted.

“We go into this in good faith and with the political will to reach agreement. I made the comparison with other groups of public sector workers because all public sector workers have suffered what Patrick Harvie described for teachers: years of pay restraint that have led to erosion of their wages.”

She added: “We have given a commitment that we want to go on a journey of restoration, but pay awards must be affordable. I want awards to be fair and to take public sector workers—including teachers—on that journey, but I have a responsibility, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work has a responsibility, to make sure that we can fund offers that are made. The 10 per cent that I would love to give to teachers, nurses and everybody in the public sector is not affordable or realistic under the current funding constraints. We need to get back round the table, which is happening, and come up with a fair offer that is also realistic and affordable. I hope that everybody will support us as we try to do that.”

Dumbarton and Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie said later: ““It is not in teachers’ nature to strike. If you look at their track record, the last time they deemed it fit to strike was under Thatcher.

“But the 98% of Scottish teachers who just rejected the latest pay offer clearly feel so let down by this SNP government that they are willing to strike. The Government has continuously undermined and under-resourced thousands of Scottish teachers and this must change.

“The way our teachers have been treated in recent months, is part of a wider culture of disregard by the SNP Government of our hardworking, undervalued public sector workers.

“At FMQs today, Nicola Sturgeon was giving the opportunity to apologise directly to teachers for the disgraceful mishandling of their pay negotiations. Sadly, she chose not to do so”

Ninety eight per cent of teachers joined the pay increase campaign.

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