Anas Sarwar has urged one of Scotland’s leading private schools to “see sense” after it was accused of using “fire and rehire” tactics against its teachers.
The Scottish Labour leader said Hutchesons’ Grammar School has “serious questions” to answer following the claims.
Sarwar, who is a former pupil, sends his children to the independent school in Glasgow which charges fees of up to £14,000 a year.
Last week, staff said they were left with “no choice” but to issue notice of a statutory ballot for industrial action at the school, which was attended by First Minister Humza Yousaf.
The ballot will open on April 11 and close on May 4 with the union saying that strike action is likely to commence a fortnight later.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) has accused Hutchesons’ of forcing teachers to agree to a new contract which would downgrade their pensions or face being sacked. The school denies that it is offering teachers an inferior pension.
Asked about the row on Thursday, Sarwar told STV News he had been in touch with trade unions and the school to resolve the issue.
He said: “I’ve met with the unions directly, I’ve met with representatives of the teachers themselves and I’ve engaged with the school.
“I think the actions are open to serious questions.
“Any approach to fire and rehire is unacceptable.
“To do things unilaterally without the backing and support of the workforce I think is unacceptable.
“Therefore I’ll continue to engage with the trade unions, I’ll continue to engage with the workers and I’ll continue to urge the school to see sense.”
Hutchesons has denied implementing the fire and rehire policy but a spokesperson previously told STV News: “The minority of teachers who have not yet signed the contract of variation letter have been issued with a letter serving formal notice to terminate their existing contract of employment alongside an immediate offer of re-employment.”
Fire and rehire refers to when an employer fires an employee and offers them a new contract on new, often less-favourable terms.
EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley last week said it was “outrageous” the school had issued a termination of contract letter to educators.
She said: “Teachers at the school are effectively being threatened with losing their jobs if they don’t sign up to an inferior pension that will give them a poorer retirement relative to their current pension.
“Staff have stood strong against this threat to their retirements, acted collectively and have avoided being picked off one by one as individuals.
“Staff have had no choice but to ask for a statutory ballot on strike action to defend their pensions from an aggressive employer.
“The EIS will continue to support all members in such circumstances, including those in the independent sector.”
A spokesperson for Hutchesons’ Grammar School said: “The board of governors strongly rejects accusations of ‘fire and rehire’ with inferior pension provision.
“The new pension offers additional benefits including a slightly higher rate employer pensions and benefits contribution rate than the STPS.
“In also offers double the Death in Service benefit from three times annual earnings under the STPS to six times annual earnings and it gives three years’ income protection in the event a teacher is unable to work for an extended period of time which is not available under the STPS.
“In addition to this a teacher’s remaining pension pot is paid into their estate when they die, a benefit not available under the current STPS, it offers flexibility of an early retirement age, should they wish, and to choose their own contribution rate, whether the same, more or less than under the STPS. The new pension also increases the teachers’ take-home salary, with the introduction of a salary exchange option.
“The decision was taken following a 60-day collective consultation with staff in addition to a number of individual consultation meetings. The school is offering a different pension, not an inferior one.
“Our teaching staff are highly valued and are our school’s greatest asset, providing excellent academic and pastoral support to our pupils and all decisions taken by the board of governors are taken in the best interests of staff, pupils and parents.
“Sadly, recent increases to the Scottish Teachers’ Pension Scheme employer costs have impacted on our expenditure and with further increases expected next year, the governors believe this future increase would make it less sustainable as they wish to keep Hutchesons’ affordable to as many families as possible and protect staff jobs.
“Three separate actuarial reports commissioned by the Independent Schools’ Bursars’ Association have predicted the employer contribution could rise to 30 per cent or more as early as April 2024.
“Last week the chief secretary to the Treasury, John Glen MP, made a written statement to Parliament last Thursday which confirmed that unfunded public service pension schemes, of which the STPS is one, are going to see the employer’s pension contribution rate rise.
“The only change in the new contract will be in relation to the pension. All other terms and conditions will remain unaffected, and continuity of service will be preserved in every respect. We remain hopeful that all teachers will remain at Hutchesons’.”