Scottish teachers must be prepared to accept a “fair” and “realistic” pay deal, not the unaffordable 10 per cent rise unions are demanding, the First Minister has said.
Nicola Sturgeon said she recognised the “strength of feeling” there was on the issue, after a ballot by Scotland’s largest teaching union saw 98 per cent vote to reject the wage offer.
It comes as the SNP leader was told teachers were having to “buy pens, pencils, books for pupils because Scotland’s schools are starved of cash”.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard challenged her on the issue after two unions voted overwhelmingly against the offer that has been made by councils and the Scottish Government.
Education Secretary John Swinney has already said that while teachers are being offered a 3 per cent pay rise across the board, restructuring of the main pay grade scale, combined with other changes will mean most would receive a rise of between 5 per cent and 11 per cent.
In a ballot 98 per cent of EIS union members rejected that, with 97 per cent of members of the SSTA teaching union who took part in a vote also opposed.
Mr Leonard said: “The First Minister wants to be judged by her record on education, so let’s examine that record - it’s a record of austerity, which even SNP councillors now admit is going too far.
“How can education be your top priority with underfunded schools and undervalued teachers?”
Ms Sturgeon insisted: “Teachers are not undervalued, we highly value the work that teachers do.”
But Labour’s Iain Gray, a former teacher, said: “The last time Scotland’s teachers were angry enough to go on strike Margaret Thatcher was still prime minister, I was a school teacher, the First Minister was a school pupil and some of the 98 per cent of current teachers who have just rejected the pay offer were not even born.
“That is how badly this government has handled teacher pay.”
Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens also called on the Government to come back to pay talks with a “realistic offer” - saying staff in classrooms had seen their salaries fall in real terms by almost a quarter over the last decade.
“We all want teaching to be an attractive rewarding profession, where people fell valued for that hard work, but that isn’t happening now,” he said.
“Huge numbers of teachers feel overworked, under resourced and demeaned as they see the value of their salaries eroded year after year.”
To avoid the prospect of a teaching strike he said ministers needed to they “work towards a realistic offer and give local councils the resources they need to meet it”.
Ms Sturgeon said the government and the council body Cosla would negotiate with teaching unions in a bid to resolve the pay row.
She told MSPs: “I recognise that offer has been rejected, I respect that and I recognise the strength of feeling, so the Scottish Government and Cosla will go back to the table and we will continue to seek a reasonable agreement in good faith.”
She said she wanted to “see teachers get a good pay rise, one that recognises the vital and very difficult job they do, one which recognises not just the current cost of living pressures but starts also a process of restoration of the lost ground that all public sector workers have suffered because of the years of pay restraint”.
But she made clear the 10 per cent rise unions are demanding is not affordable.
The First Minister said: “This is a statement of simple fact - pay awards have to be affordable, because if they are not affordable they can not be delivered. I would love to give teachers and all public sector workers a 10 per cent pay rise but that is simply not affordable in a single year.
“So what we need to do now, and the Scottish Government will play our full part in this, we need to come back to the table to agree a fair and affordable agreement, in the same way that the Scottish Government has already done for nurses and other health care workers and police officers.
“The Scottish Government will proceed to do that in good faith and I hope we can before too much longer reach that fair and reasonable agreement.”
She pledged ministers would go into talks “in good faith and with the political will to find an agreement”, and said: “What we need to do is get back round the table, which is happening, and come up with a fair offer, but one that is also realistic and affordable.”