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Education Secretary: Teachers deserve ‘fair pay offer’ amid strike threats

Scottish Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville addressed pay concerns at the EIS AGM (Jane Barlow/PA)
Scottish Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville addressed pay concerns at the EIS AGM (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scotland’s Education Secretary has said she supports a “fair pay offer” for teachers, as union leaders warned school strikes could happen in the autumn if a deal on a wage rise is not reached.

Shirley-Anne Somerville told Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members she understands the desire for teachers’ efforts during the coronavirus pandemic to be recognised with a pay rise – particularly in the face of a cost-of-living crisis.

Earlier, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said teachers will be ready to strike by the autumn if a resolution is not reached on the dispute.

Teachers have rejected a 2.2% pay increase from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), amid union demands of a 10% pay rise.

Addressing union members at their annual meeting in Dundee, Ms Somerville said: “I am aware of the strength of feeling, not just from the past couple of days but through correspondence and dialogue I’ve had with EIS officials.

“I know the strength of feeling on this and indeed the strength of feeling right across the public sector, including the teaching workforce, and I recognise the desire by everyone for their efforts to be recognised by way of a pay rise.”

But she said she also understands the “financial challenges” facing local authorities and stressed a pay rise must be “affordable”.

Councils face a real terms cut to their finances over the next five years following Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’s spending review, outlined last week.

Ms Somerville said: “I also understand the financial challenges councils face, in common with the wider public sector, and the need for any pay rise to not only be fair to employees but also affordable to the employer.

“Whilst it is for the local government, as the employer, to make any revised pay offer, I am absolutely committed to supporting a fair pay offer for teachers and we will work with the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers to conclude these negotiations as quickly as possible.”

The Education Secretary was quizzed by EIS delegates whether a 9% real terms cut was the value placed on teachers following the spending review projections.

She replied: “The Scottish Government has a strong track record for our support for teachers.

“I’m absolutely committed to be working with unions and with Cosla to see what can be done this week so that we can have a fair pay rise.

“But recognising that, we do have financial constraints both within the Scottish Government and within local government that we need to reflect the reality of that context in that situation within the pay discussions that we’re having.”

During Mr Flanagan’s AGM speech at Dundee’s Caird Hall, he said teachers are ready to “fight back” and said school staff “deserve better” after their efforts during the pandemic.

He said: “Cosla and the Scottish Government are on notice that come the autumn we will be strike-ready if required.”

It followed a similar message from union president Heather Hughes, who warned school teachers are ready to “vacate classrooms” to demand change.