Teachers walk out on strike across Scotland as union condemns 'political machinations'

The general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union has accused the Scottish Government and COSLA of “disgraceful” tactics after the first national pay strike by teachers in Scotland in almost 40 years saw schools closed the length and breadth of the country.

Andrea Bradley said the last pay offer amounted to a “lazy reheating” of one that had already been rejected. She warned that teachers were angry at the government’s “political machinations and spin.”

The growing discontent among unions also saw the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) claim that teachers had been “deliberately misled” by ministers and local authority leaders. It described the latest offer as “pathetic and insulting.”

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Teachers across the country walked out on Thursday, with picket lines in place at schools across Scotland. Thousands of teachers attended a rally outside the Scottish Parliament, with demonstrations also held in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, and Elgin.

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Pupils at nearly every primary and secondary school and many local authority nurseries were affected by the industrial action. The one day walkout went ahead after a revised pay offer issued on Tuesday was summarily rejected as "insulting" by unions.

The education secretary has urged unions to "get back around the table" to avert more strikes. Shirley-Anne Somerville said the pay offer from the council umbrella body, COSLA, would have increased the pay of the lowest paid teachers by up to 6.85 per cent. Under the proposal, teachers earning under £40,107 would receive an increase of £1,926 per year, while those earning more would get five per cent.

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She said it would also represent a cumulative pay increase for the majority of teachers of 21.8 per cent since 2018. But the EIS, which has announced two days of strike action on 10 and 11 January, has been campaigning for a 10 per cent pay deal.

Ms Somerville described the existing offer as “fair” and targeted at those impacted by the cost of living crisis, with higher increases for those staff on lower salaries. But Ms Bradley said the offer put on the table was no different to one roundly rejected by teachers months ago.

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Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) join teachers at a rally outside the Scottish Parliament in a protest over pay. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

She said: “We really did not want to be in this position, and have engaged constructively in talks for many months, but have been forced into this strike by the inaction of the Scottish Government and COSLA who have refused to make any improvement to a pay offer that was roundly rejected by teachers three months ago. Instead, what has been offered amounts to a differentiated pay cut whichever way you look at it.

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“The tactics of both COSLA and the Scottish Government in this process have been nothing short of disgraceful. They have offered a series of sub-standard offers that fall far below the rate of inflation and far short of the justifiable expectations of Scotland’s hard-working teaching professionals.”

She went on: “They have dragged the process out endlessly, while soaring inflation has decreased the value of their offers still further. And, in their most recent insult, they presented a long-awaited ‘revised’ offer at the last possible minute, which was simply an obvious re-packaging of the same offer that teachers overwhelmingly rejected three months ago.”

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Seamus Searson, general secretary of the SSTA, which is planning to strike on 7 and 8 December, said the government and COSLA had given teachers the impression that a “serious increased pay offer” would be put on the table, only to be disappointed.

Teachers on the picket line outside Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh in a protest over pay. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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He said: “After three months what we received was a pathetic and insulting pay offer that penalised senior teachers to the benefit of a very small number of new entrants. This treatment only shows contempt for teachers. How they think this is a sensible offer is beyond belief.

“A misleading statement by the Scottish Government that falsely twists statistics to try and give the impression that this is a serious and substantial pay offer only compounds the feeling of contempt.

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“For the vast majority of teachers there is no new offer. SSTA members have no option but to continue with planned strike action.”

Paul Cochrane, the SSTA’s salaries and working conditions committee convener, said: “It is evident that COSLA and the Scottish Government have refused to listen to the view of the teachers’ side that any offer should be undifferentiated and reflective of the current economic situation faced by a workforce that stood tall during the critical period of the pandemic

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“COSLA’s behaviour has illustrated that, by dint of delay and late postponement of timetabled meetings, it has never been serious about settling with teachers. The tripartite consensus has been deliberately sabotaged and used as a stick to frustrate and punish teachers.”

Speaking to Bauer Radio, Ms Somerville urged unions to try and thrash out a deal. She said: "We have shown our support for teachers, we recognise the value of teachers, but they also need to recognise the context the government is working in.

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"Let's just get round the table - rather than more strike dates being announced and a further escalation. Let's see what we can do to prevent that happening and prevent any further disruption to children's education."

She said a 10 per cent pay increase would be "simply unaffordable" for the government, adding that she was "disappointed" this week's offer was not put to EIS members.

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It comes as tens of thousands of staff at universities and Royal Mail centres also went on strike amid worsening disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) rejected the Royal Mail’s “final” offer and is pressing ahead with a series of strikes, including today - Black Friday - and Christmas Eve.

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Around 70,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) also went on strike on Thursday, and will do so again today, in a dispute over pay, pensions and contracts.

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