Unions split as EIS accepts deal to freeze teachers' pay for two years

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Members of Scotland's largest teaching union last night narrowly accepted a real-terms cut to pay in exchange for guarantees on jobs.

An Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) ballot saw 56 per cent vote for the controversial proposals which would see teachers taking a two-year pay freeze, cutting their annual salary bill by 45 million.

Earlier yesterday, the changes - put forward by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) - had been rejected by another union, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA).

But despite the SSTA dissent, the decision made by the EIS means that the teacher's side of the tripartite negotiations between teachers, Cosla and the Scottish Government will accept the new conditions.

The teachers' side is made up of four teaching unions: the EIS; SSTA; Voice; and NASUWT. But the relative size of the EIS means that it holds 13 of the 19 seats on the teacher's side.

Last night, Ronnie Smith, the EIS General Secretary, said: "This is a very difficult negotiation, which is about retrenchment in times of austerity. The EIS has made a difficult call and the smaller unions are in opposition to that stance.

"It is hard to accept, but the consequences of rejecting the deal would have been worse. We recognise that we are in a very difficult financial situation, but it is one thing to say 'no', but we need to be clear about what to do next and we were not aware of any alternative strategy. It was a pragmatic decision and is not in any way a famous victory."

Last night, the SSTA threatened legal action to help members to recover cash they stand to lose. The SSTA said they had consulted lawyers after their members voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposed changes.

The organisation claims that the proposals included cutting pay for supply teachers by up to 40 per cent and stopping staff who gain more qualifications from getting a pay rise.

Just over 50 per cent of the SSTA's 8,500 members voted in a ballot, which saw 93 per cent of those who took part vote against the changes. Last night, SSTA general secretary Ann Ballinger said: "This leaves us free to take legal action on behalf of any member who is disadvantaged."

Mrs Ballinger said there was legislation that covered "less favourable treatment" of part-time and fixed time workers, which the union's lawyers were looking at.

"I would not rule out industrial action completely, but we are not convinced that is the best way forward," she said."But this ballot underlines the disgust of the SSTA members on the impact these proposals will have on the most vulnerable members of the profession."

Education secretary Michael Russell said: "The support of the EIS for this package is welcome and shows teachers recognise the challenges we all face and the steps being put in place to protect jobs for the future.

"The SNP set aside 15m to support this agreement and a re-elected SNP government will work to reach further agreement with the other unions."