For as long as I can recall the EIS has threatened a teacher strike in Scotland. The first I seem to recall was in 2008, a year after the SNP won its first Holyrood election [see image].
The strike threat ran in parallel with claims from the EIS that teachers were facing compulsary redundancies due to cuts to local authority budgets.
There was another strike threat from the EIS in 2009. This time the union cited class sizes as justification. Since then threats of a strike by the EIS has seemed like an annual event. Below are some examples.
In 2011 it was pensions
In 2012 it was pay
In 2015 it was workload.
In 2016 it was exams.
In 2017 it was pay.
The point is that the EIS threatens strike action at the drop of a hat. The threats are always headlined by the media, especially BBC Scotland.
The recent threat is by far the most bizarre. Why? Because the EIS is urging its members to take industrial action despite being offered the best public sector pay award in the UK.
The Scottish government initially offered a three per cent minimum pay rise for teachers, with those at the lower end receiving a whopping eleven per cent. According to teaching magazine TES.com:
The biggest rise in the proposed new deal is planned for teachers on point three of the scale, who will usually have been in the job for three years; overall, they would receive an 11 per cent rise, sources say. The smallest planned rise is for the teachers at the top of the scale, who would receive a 5 per cent pay rise overall.
This meant that a teacher on a salary of £30,7014 would receive a 11% pay rise. A teacher on £36,480 would receive a 5% payrise. Higher earners, including staff earning up to £80,000 would receive a minimum of 3%.
Most folk working in the public sector would give their right arm for such a pay award. But it was rejected by teachers who were urged to do so by the EIS.
An improved offer was made on Thursday by John Swinney who said: “Under this scenario, teachers would receive a minimum 9% increase between January 2018 and April 2019 and a further 3% rise in April 2020.”
The Scottish government said its additional contribution to restructure the pay scale would see all teachers on the main grade scale receiving at least a 5% increase in 2018-19, which would be backdated to April last year. Some teachers would receive 11%.
The EIS rejected the improved offer. The union wants an across the board increase of 10%. On Saturday the union announced it would be holding a strike ballot. Ballot papers are to be issued this month.
Will teachers vote to strike? If they did, some would be voting to hand part of their Scottish government pay increase to higher earners. Those who’d get 11% if they accepted the Scottish government’s offer, would instead get 10%. Do teachers earning £88,056 really need an extra £8,800 a year to make ends meet?
Teachers, like nurses, do a tough job in tough conditions. Like the NHS, police and firemen, we need them. Like other public sector workers, they have been hit hard by Tory austerity. The public was on their side when they marched last year. But public support cannot be taken for granted.
This is a very good deal. In England and Wales teachers received an award nowhere near as generous as that being made by the Scottish government. Teachers south of the border will receive a maximum not of 11% … but 3.5%, with most receiving not 5% … but between 1.5% and 2%.
Some have suggested the strike threat by the EIS is political. Recent behaviour by trade unions in Scotland would lend credence to this suggestion. The antics of unions over the Glasgow Council Equal pay row appeared designed to help Scottish Labour attack the SNP.
When former trade union official Richard Leonard became leader of the Scottish Labour party, a spate of trade union stories suddenly appeared across the Scottish MSM. Trade unions have appeared particularly agitated in recent months.
There may be nothing to the theory. EIS chief Larry Flanagan may indeed be trying to call the Scottish government’s bluff in a bid at increasing the pay of his members. However with Nicola Sturgeon having made clear she wants to be judged on the closing of the attainment gap, it’s easy to see how a teacher strike would help SNP opponents.
Meanwhile Scotland’s children face the prospect of teachers going on strike having rejected a pay award that every other public sector worker in the UK can only dream of.