Thousands of pupils across Scotland who have appealed their exams will have their results “severely delayed” as a result of strikes by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).
Unite the union confirmed on Thursday morning that its SQA members had voted to take industrial action.
In a consultative ballot in July, Unite announced that 95% of its SQA members rejected a “derisory” pay offer which is worth between 1.7% to 4% depending on job grading, while the broader measure of inflation (RPI) has soared to hit a 40 year high at 12.3%.
Of a 78.9% turnout of union members, 86.7% supported strike action, while 95.9% also voted to take action short of a strike.
SQA workers across all levels of staff and function will take three days of strike action on September 8, 15, and 16, while an overtime ban and ban on accrual of time off in lieu will also be in effect from September 8 to November 30.
The industrial action will disrupt the standard exam appeals stage of the process with the trade union estimating that up to 22,000 standard appeals will be “severely delayed”.
The SQA will confirm the results of “priority appeals” to UCAS on September 6.
The appeals service opened on August 9 and the deadline for centres to submit them is September 2.
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Unite’s SQA members have emphatically supported strike action due to a derisory pay offer which is worth as low as 1.7% for some workers. There are serious concerns over education reform in Scotland, and specifically what this means for the jobs of our members going forward. These concerns have in no way, shape or form been addressed. Unite will always defend our members’ jobs, pay and conditions.”
The union has written to the cabinet secretary for education and skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, to repeat its concerns and further reiterated its serious ongoing concerns over the proposed disbanding of the SQA, and the lack of assurances over job roles and locations, conditions and pay of the existing workforce in any new organisation.
Alison MacLean, Unite industrial officer, added: “Tens of thousands of student appeals will be severely delayed by Unite’s industrial action at the SQA. Our members are disillusioned, frustrated and angry.
“Not only have they been offered a brutal real terms pay cut but they have in effect been locked-out of the ongoing discussions surrounding education reform. Meaningful dialogue and an opportunity for staff to shape the discussions was promised to us in light of the vast experience of our members.
“Hundreds of workers could see their job roles and conditions being significantly altered yet none of us are any the wiser on what this proposed reform will mean on a day to day basis.”
In 2021, the Scottish Government announced it would disband the SQA and tasked Professor Ken Muir with bringing forward several proposals for the reform of Scotland’s education and qualifications system.
Three new national bodies are to be created – a qualifications body, a national agency for Scottish education, and an independent inspection body.
The Scottish Government has given a commitment to delivering an operating model for these new bodies by the winter of this year with the new bodies to be fully operational in 2024.
Unite maintains that it will be impossible for the new operating model to be in place later this year without the legitimate concerns of its members being addressed.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While this is a matter for SQA as the employer, we remain in close contact with them to ensure that resolution talks resume. We hope that any potential disruption can be avoided through further negotiation.
“The Scottish Government remains committed to ensuring that workers’ rights are protected throughout the process of Education Reform and when the SQA is replaced by a new qualifications body.
“We will continue to engage with SQA management, staff and unions to try to address the concerns raised.”
A spokesperson for SQA said: “We fully recognise the impact that the cost of living is having on staff and remain in close dialogue with the trade unions with a view to reaching a fair outcome on pay. As a public sector employer funded by the Scottish Government, we are working with the Scottish Government to seek agreement to improve our pay offer.
“We are very disappointed that industrial action has been called before the dispute resolution process has concluded. However, as always our primary focus is on learners, and it is important to stress that anyone waiting for the outcome of a priority appeal to secure a university place or job will be unaffected.”