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Education / Teachers take picket line to town hall as strike continues

A picket line was formed outside Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

AROUND 30 members of the local branch of the EIS teachers’ union gathered outside Lerwick Town Hall today (Wednesday) in an attempt to remind Shetland Islands Council (SIC) that it can have a role to play in bringing the long-running dispute over pay to an end.

Shetland EIS convener Matthew Moss said: “We ask council officers and elected members to apply what pressure they can on COSLA (of which SIC is a member) to stop bypassing the appropriate and agreed collective bargaining procedures for teachers pay.”

However, the chair of the council’s education and families committee, councillor Davie Sandison, said while he would like to see the dispute resolved sooner rather than later, there was little he could do.

“Local councillors and local authorities individually have no role to play in the process and the proper procedure for dealing with pay disputes. It is not something we have any influence over,” he said.

“However, that is not to say that at every opportunity we would encourage every party that has a role to play to actively get around the negotiating table and use the proper procedures that are in place to resolve the dispute.”

EIS Shetland vice convener Irvine Tait: ‘we are willing to discuss a serious offer’. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

A recent revised offer of six per cent more pay for teachers backdated to April last year, as well as an offer of 5.5 per cent for the coming financial year was rejected by the EIS union, partly because it was not made through the prescribed negotiating route. Further talks are taking place today.

Most schools in Shetland have been closed yesterday and today due to strike action. The EIS has meanwhile announced more strike dates for March.

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Moss said: “COSLA and the Scottish Government need to negotiate in good faith through the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) and not through leaks to the press and media soundbites.

“They have always had the ability and the means to end this dispute but have deliberately dragged-out negotiations for over a year and brought us to this point when we must act for our members and for the good of Scottish education.”

Local EIS vice convener Irvine Tait added that the support for teachers striking was still strong.

“An Ipsos poll recently showed that 49 per cent of people back teachers, 33 per cent didn’t and the rest were undecided, so I think there is an understanding amongst many parents and the population that the cost of living crisis is biting. It affects teachers like anybody else,” he said.

The history teacher said the pay issue was part of the attempt to tackle more fundamental problems with retention and recruitment in education. 

Anderson High teacher Valeska Pearson with Gretchen and Otto at the town hall on Wednesday. Photo: Shetland News

“We have problems with retention and recruitment, and sorting out pay will contribute to try to deal with that issue because it is not in the interest of parents and pupils to have a situation where we can’t retain good people, and where we can’t recruit people. That is in nobody’s interest,” he said.

And, he added, teachers were willing to compromise.

“It is about negotiation and compromise. There is space between six percent, which we rejected, and ten percent which is our opening position,” he said.

“So, there is space between six and ten percent, and what we want is a significantly improved offer that probably will fall within that range. 

“It is up to the Scottish Government and CoSLA to come to the table with that offer so that we can put it to our members and get this resolved, and get back to work which is what we all want to do.

“So, it is about negotiation and compromise. I can’t say what the final figure will be, but we are willing to discuss a serious offer, and what we are not going to do is to sell out and betray out members.”

Moss meanwhile said the union “fully understands that school closures are having an impact on pupils and parents but we ask people to understand that not only have teachers been let badly down by both the Scottish Government and COSLA but so have pupils and parents”.

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