One of Scotland’s leading private schools is facing strike action after being accused of “fire and rehire” tactics against its teachers.
Staff said they have been left with “no choice” but to issue notice of a statutory ballot for industrial action at Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow.
The school denies implementing a “fire and rehire” policy but a spokesperson 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.
The independent school, which charges fees of nearly £14,000 a year, was attended by First Minister Humza Yousaf and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
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.
An EIS spokesperson said: “We do not want to be ‘re-engaged’ on new contracts with poorer terms and conditions but the school is now saying that teachers will be fired if they don’t agree the new contracts with an inferior pension.
“We wish to further explore the reasons for the proposal and whether there are other options available which do not include withdrawal from the Scottish Teachers’ Pension Scheme.”
The union said they were told by senior managers at the school that finances are in good condition.
The spokesperson continued: “There seems to be no need for cost-cutting, therefore, we are at a loss as to why the school is taking this drastic action of reducing pension benefits in order to freeze costs.
“We believe removing teachers from the government-backed public pension scheme will leave teachers worse off and open to more financial risk as well as poorer in retirement.
“The EIS is worried this will impact disproportionately hard on younger, newer teachers in particular.”
Andrea Bradley, EIS general secretary, said it is “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: “Sadly, recent increases to the Scottish Teachers’ Pension Scheme (STPS) 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.”
The school said three separate reports have predicted that employer contributions could rise to 30% by April, 2014.
It said that following a 60-day collective consultation with staff it took the decision to withdraw from the STPS and to offer a “generous” defined contribution scheme of its own.
The spokesperson continued: “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.
“The only change in the new contract will be in relation to the pensions. 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 choose to continue teaching at Hutchesons’. We do not wish to lose any member of staff and no job roles will be lost.
“The decision to withdraw from the STPS was not taken lightly and the governors understand the strength of feeling amongst our teachers.
“Our governors care deeply about the wellbeing of the teachers and would not have taken this decision unless they felt it was absolutely necessary to support the long-term sustainability of the school and thus staff jobs.
“Throughout the consultation process the senior leadership team and governors have listened to staff, have answered their questions and sought to address any concerns.”
The spokesperson said the school does not believe industrial action is in the best interests of the school, its teachers or its pupils.
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.