Mike Russell ‘cannot hide behind coat-tails of Eton toffs’ on pensions

Mike Russell speaking at the EIS headteachers conference last year. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Mike Russell speaking at the EIS headteachers conference last year. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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TEACHERS have threatened to strike amid growing anger over changes to their pensions, and accused Holyrood education secretary Mike Russell of “hiding behind the coat-tails of some Eton toffs”.

• EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan demanded the education secretary stood up to Westminster

• EIS voted in favour of fighting austerity measures which could lead to industrial action in the autumn

Members of the country’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), yesterday voted in favour of fighting austerity measures in a renewed campaign which could lead to industrial action in the autumn.

The union, which is holding its AGM, backed motions calling for action to protect the profession from public sector cuts and oppose changes to their pensions being made by the UK government.

In a scathing attack on Mr Russell, newly-elected EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan demanded the education secretary stood up to Westminster.

He said: “We understand that it is the UK government, the coalition, that has been the driving force behind the attempt to make teachers pay more, to work longer and to get less.

“We know who the guilty are in this great cash robbery. But we have a clear message also for the Scottish Government and for Mike Russell, the cabinet secretary for education, in particular. You cannot hide behind the coat-tails of some Eton toffs and say, ‘It wisnae me’.

“Scottish teachers expect the Scottish Government to stand up for Scotland on this issue and if they fail to do so, if they fail to deliver a fair settlement on pensions here in Scotland, we are prepared to fight them every bit as hard as we will fight the UK coalition government on this issue.”

Last November, Scots teachers took part in a UK-wide strike over pension changes – the first nationwide walkout by the profession in Scotland since 1986.

While pension reform is reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government has said it must implement the changes or face losing £100 million a year it receives from the UK government.

Mr Flanagan said Westminster’s austerity measures had been “firmly rejected” by voters.

Delegates in Dundee were told that talks over next year’s pay claim would be “a very tough round of negotiations, as budget cuts bite deeply”.

Local elections in May made it clear “not only in Scotland but across Britain, that the UK government’s austerity programme has been decisively rejected”.

Mr Flanagan said: “It is clear that what the electorate wants is for elected politicians to fight back against austerity and not to simply administer a cuts programme.

“There is a simple choice: fight the cuts or fight us, because we are not minded to pay the price for the greed of others.”

Teaching was a stressful profession, he said, adding: “The suggestion that teachers should stay in the classroom till they are 68 or even longer is not a credible notion and it is one we will resist: 68 is way too late.”

Charlotte Ahmed, a union member from Glasgow, said: “This is theft. It’s a smash-and-grab. They’re taking money out of our pockets and putting it where exactly?

“The autumn is the time to turn the screw and commit ourselves to action.”

Earlier yesterday delegates had voted against striking in relation to concerns over the introduction of controversial new exams.

The AGM heard calls for industrial action if the Scottish Government did not agree to a one-year delay in the introduction of the new National Qualifications. However, members rejected the move, which would have dealt a major blow to the continued roll-out of Curriculum for Excellence, which itself was subject to a one-year delay before being introduced in 2010.

One teacher told the meeting the profession was “walking into an abyss”, with the education of thousands of children at risk due a lack of understanding about what the new qualifications will entail and the amount of time needed to prepare.

But delegates later voted against industrial action after hearing how a £3.5 million support package agreed with the Scottish Government was easing concerns. An audit by Education Scotland last month concluded that only a small number of schools were struggling to be ready for the start of the new qualifications in 2013.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “negotiations with key stakeholders of the Scottish Teachers Superannuation Scheme commenced on 25 April, 2012. It has been widely recognised these discussions are taking place under clear restrictions by the Westminster government, who have placed additional constraints on our ability to negotiate a separate agreement on public sector pensions in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government is committed to public sector pensions which are affordable, sustainable and fair.”