EIS teaching union backs pay deal to end school strikes

Members of the EIS union, with West Dunbartonshire official James Halfpenny,  have been voting on the latest pay offer

By Democrat reporter

BBC Scotland is reporting that members of Scotland’s largest teaching union have voted to accept a pay offer to end long-running school strikes.

The EIS confirmed 90% who took part in the ballot backed a 7% rise backdated to last April, a further 5% next month and 2% in January.

The union had suspended planned strikes when the offer was made last week. The EIS said turnout for the ballot was 82%.

The result was confirmed after the ballot closed at 10:00.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the “fair, affordable and sustainable” offer was the most generous in more than 20 years.

EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley said: “The acceptance of this offer will mean that, for most teachers, their pay will increase by 12.3% by next month in comparison to current pay levels.

“The total current package will amount to a 14.6% increase in pay for most teachers by January 2024.”

She added her members had taken a “pragmatic decision” after a sustained period of industrial action that she described as “deeply regrettable”.

Ms Bradley said: “While it does not meet our aspirations in respect of a restorative pay settlement for Scotland’s teachers, it is the best deal that can realistically be achieved in the current political and financial climate without further prolonged industrial action.

“It compares favourably with recent pay settlements across the public sector, and does provide pay certainty for Scotland’s teachers for the next 16 months until the next pay settlement is scheduled to be delivered in August 2024.”

The EIS, SSTA and NASUWT teaching unions have been in a year-long industrial dispute with councils.

The deadlock was broken last week when councils, using extra money from the Scottish government, made a fresh offer that would see most teachers’ salaries rise by £5,200 in April.

The EIS said at the time that the deal did not represent the achievement of its aims but it had negotiated a compromise, which it would put to members.

The union paused targeted strikes that were being held in constituencies of senior politicians including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

It said future action – a 20-day wave of rolling strikes from 13 March – would depend on the outcome of the ballot.

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Analysis box by Jamie McIvor, news correspondent, BBC Scotland

The teachers’ strike is now effectively over.

Two of the three unions which represent classroom teachers – the EIS and the SSTA – have now said they will accept the pay offer.

The third – the NASUWT – is urging rejection and is still consulting its members.

The AHDS, representing heads and deputes, also intends to accept it.

This means that the pay offer will almost certainly be put into effect.

As is often the case in industrial disputes, the resolution is a compromise. Both sides gave ground.

The 7% rise for 2022-23 is below the 10% pay claim. The 5% this April followed by a further 2% in January is still below inflation.

But it is still better than the offer made just before the strikes started – worth around 5% for the majority of teachers.

However few teachers will feel like celebrating a victory. Many were saddened that industrial action on this scale was necessary and were all too aware of the potential impact of strikes on children, teenagers and families.

The unions had hoped the mere threat of a strike would have proved sufficient.

With the pay dispute over, the question is whether the relationship between teachers’ unions, employers and the Scottish government has been damaged.

Since devolution, various administrations have enjoyed cordial and positive relations with the teachers’ unions.

They have been viewed as important stakeholders in discussions about education policy and practice itself – rather than simply organisations which represent the concerns of their members in the workplace.

Inevitably a strike which pitted teachers against politicians risked straining that relationship.

But both sides will hope that relationship can now be reset so discussions can focus on education itself again.

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On Thursday, members of the SSTA voted overwhelmingly to accept the deal.  In total 85.3% voted in favour, while 14.7% rejected it.

SSTA president Catherine Nicol said the dispute could, and should, have been resolved many months ago.

The NASUWT union said it would ballot members on the latest pay package, but described it as “paltry” and said it fell short of what teachers wanted.

Shirley-Anne Somerville
Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, left, said the offer was the most generous in more than 20 years

Teachers had initially demanded a 10% increase this year, with the dispute seeing almost all schools in Scotland closed by a series of strikes.

The latest proposal follows talks between the EIS, Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville and Deputy First Minister John Swinney last week.

Ms Somerville welcomed the vote to accept what she said was a “historic” deal.  She added: “Teachers in Scotland are already the best paid in the UK and this deal will mean a salary rise of £5,200 in April for most teachers, and a cumulative rise of 33% since January 2018.

“A resolution to this dispute and an end to the threat of further strike disruption in our schools will be a huge relief for children, young people, parents, carers, and teachers, too.”

‘Bitter dispute’

Labour education spokesperson Michael Marra, Tory Stephen Kerr and LibDem Willie Rennie.

But the Scottish Conservatives accused her of being “asleep at the wheel” over the strike action.

Party education spokesman Stephen Kerr MSP said: “It would never have lasted this long – and caused so much disruption to our children’s education – had Shirley-Anne Somerville been on top of her brief and shown the required urgency to resolve it.”

Scottish Labour also criticised Ms Somerville for taking too long to reach the settlement.

Education spokesperson Michael Marra MSP said: “The SNP government needs to take a long, hard look at its approach to industrial relations.

“The delay tactics have hurt Scotland’s pupils, who have now missed a full week of learning in this academic year.”

Scottish Lib Dem education spokesperson, Willie Rennie MSP, said it was a “travesty” that it took so long for an agreement to be reached.

He added: “The prolonged and bitter dispute has caused unquantifiable harm to the relationship between the teaching profession and an SNP government that told them they were paid more than enough.”

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