Scottish teacher strike 'not inevitable' despite overwhelming support

Teachers backed industrial action by a huge majority in a ballot over a pay dispute.

Strike action by Scottish teachers ‘not inevitable’ despite overwhelming support over pay dispute iStock

A strike by teachers in Scotland is not inevitable, the education secretary has said.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) – the country’s biggest teaching union – announced on Thursday its members will walk out on November 24.

The date of the first strike was set hours after the union said 96% of members who voted in the ballot were in favour of walkouts.

The union rejected a 5% pay increase in September.

Speaking on Friday, education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the Scottish Government is “absolutely determined” to find alternative funding for the teacher pay deal.

She told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “When we met the trade unions yesterday, along with COSLA, there was a clear understanding from everyone in the room that no-one wanted to get to the stage where there was industrial action.

“No-one wants to see that because we all appreciate the huge disruption that children and young people have faced over the past few years.

“That’s why as a Scottish Government, we’re absolutely determined to see what we can do, to see if there’s additional funding that we can provide to COSLA to allow COSLA as the employers to provide an enhanced pay offer.

“I very much hope teachers would be able to look at that offer, take it to its members and we could not have industrial action.

“The industrial action is not inevitable and I would absolutely urge, as we’ve done with all the trade union colleagues today, to keep up that constructive dialogue and make sure we’re doing everything we can to avoid that.”

The announcement of the strike comes against a backdrop of intensifying industrial strife across the UK, with the Royal College of Nursing the latest health union to announce plans to walk out, while civil servants and university lecturers have also voted for similar action.

Deputy first minister John Swinney, who is also acting finance secretary, has previously said there is no money left after announcing cuts of around £1.2bn to the Scottish budget in recent months.

Somerville called on the UK Government to provide more funding to the devolved administrations to alleviate some of the industrial tension.

“As the First Minister made clear to the Prime Minister when she met him yesterday, there is an opportunity for the UK Government to step up – I think they have a moral obligation to do so and actually ensure that all the devolved governments have funding to be able to support our public sector workers at this time,” she said.

Speaking to the same programme on Friday, EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley said Somerville’s comments that the Scottish Government is determined to make a new offer is “somewhat positive”.

She added: “There has been very little movement since around the third week in September, so it is good to hear that the Scottish Government is prepared to look again to see how it might be able to provide additional funds in order that COSLA can make a better offer than that 5%, which falls far short of inflation and would amount to an almost 8% real terms pay cut for teachers.”

Ms Bradley added that while there are no official meetings with the Government and local government body COSLA scheduled, she expects there to be informal dialogue in a bid to resolve the issue.

Asked if the union would accept a tiered offer – which would see those on the highest pay receive less of a rise – Ms Bradley said any proposed deal must be made on a “undifferentiated basis”.

She added: “We see it that all of our members work equally hard, all of our members worked equally hard across the course of the pandemic and that was recognised by politicians, by parents, by the wider public, so we do not think any of our members deserve a pay cut.”

Union leaders will meet on Friday to decide on further action to be taken.

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