Minister in plea to unions to return to talks as Scottish teachers stage strike

Members of the EIS have walked out across the country, forcing the closure of schools.

Teachers strike
Teachers strike

Scotland’s Education Secretary has urged teaching unions to “get back around the table” to avert more strikes as teachers walked out across the country for the first time in 40 years.

Members of the EIS union are striking on Thursday, forcing the closure of every school on the mainland after a last-ditch offer from the Scottish Government was summarily rejected.

Under the new proposals, teachers earning under £40,107 would receive an increase of £1,926 per year – 6.85% for those on the lowest salaries – while those earning more would get 5%.

The EIS has been campaigning for a 10% pay deal from the Scottish Government.

Teachers strike
Teachers on the picket line outside Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Speaking to Bauer Radio, Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville called for unions to get back to the negotiating table and thrash out a deal.

“I appreciate the strength of feeling that’s within the unions, that they want to see a 10% increase, but I would point out that since 2018, Scottish Government has provided – including this year’s proposal – a 21.8% cumulative increase in teacher salaries,” she said.

“We have shown our support for teachers, we recognise the value of teachers, but they also need to recognise the context the Government is working in.

Teachers strike
Striking teachers were joined by a young supporter in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

“Let’s just get round the table – rather than more strike dates being announced and a further escalation.

“Let’s see what we can do to prevent that happening and prevent any further disruption to children’s education.”

She said a 10% pay increase is “simply unaffordable” for the Scottish Government, adding she was “disappointed” this week’s offer was not put to EIS members.

Speaking ahead of the action, EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley said: “Such a pathetic, divisive offer will never be acceptable to the EIS or to Scotland’s teachers, and Scotland’s teachers will be out in force today – on picket lines outside schools and at pay campaign rallies across Scotland – to demonstrate clearly their outrage and their determination to secure a much-improved, genuinely fair pay settlement from (local government body) Cosla and the Scottish Government.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville
Shirley-Anne Somerville has been accused of being ‘missing in action’ amid the long-running dispute (PA)

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Stephen Kerr said children are “paying the price today for Shirley-Anne Somerville’s negligent leadership”, and he urged her to “pull out all the stops” to get a deal over the line.

“The EIS rejected a pay offer in September, yet the SNP’s Education Secretary waited until the last possible moment this week to come back with a revised deal, which the union immediately rejected,” he said.

“Our young people have already suffered enough disruption to their learning as a result of the Covid pandemic and missing out on more classroom time is the last thing they needed.

“Shirley-Anne Somerville has been missing in action and even when she did finally appear in Parliament to answer questions, she embarrassingly attempted to deflect the blame elsewhere.”

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