Scotland school strike: why are teachers striking - what has union EIS said about Cosla pay offer?

Schools across Scotland were closed on Thursday 24 November as teaching staff walked out over an “insulting” pay offer

Scottish teaching staff have taken part in their first nationwide strike since the 1980s as an ongoing battle for a pay rise rumbles on. The industrial action has affected almost all parts of the country, with schools and council nurseries forced to close for the day.

The strike action comes as members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) rejected a pay offer from employer Cosla. Union bosses labelled the offer as “insulting”.

As a result, thousands of teaching staff have left their classrooms to join the picket lines. The strikes are widespread, with the EIS representing around 80% of staff around the country.

The bitter pay battle has kept union representatives, Cosla representatives and representatives from the Scottish Government locked in negotiations. It comes as strikes in other sectors have affected day-to-day running of life for millions.

This includes Royal Mail strikes and rail strikes. Further rail strikes are due to impact the winter and Christmas period, with new dates being recently announced by the RMT.

But what are Scottish teachers asking for, and how close are they to achieving this? We take a look at the current row over pay in the Scottish education sector.

Why are Scottish teachers striking?

The EIS has asked employer Cosla for a 10% pay rise to keep wages in line with inflation. However, union members have not been met with this figure in negotiations.

Cosla has so far made a pay offer which would raise the wages of the lowest paid staff by up to 6.85%. Teachers on the main pay grade would get a pay rise of at least 5%, while those on the higher end of the scale - for example earning more than £60,000 - would see their wages rise by no more than 5%.

While this offer was above the previous offer of 5%, it remains well below the union’s demand of 10%. However, Scotland’s Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has described the 6.85% offer as fair.

Teaching staff across Scotland have walked out over an “insulting” pay offer from employer Cosla. (Credit: Getty Images)Teaching staff across Scotland have walked out over an “insulting” pay offer from employer Cosla. (Credit: Getty Images)
Teaching staff across Scotland have walked out over an “insulting” pay offer from employer Cosla. (Credit: Getty Images)

She added that the 10% demand is “unaffordable” for Cosla and the Scottish government. Cosla - the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities - is the umbrella body responsible for delivering local services such as education and social care, with funding coming from local councils and by extension, the Scottish government.

Cosla resource spokeswoman Katie Hagmann added: “The offer we have made is in line with the offers made to all other parts of the public sector, including the wider local government workforce.

“The response of our trade union partners in disappointing given the financial challenges facing everybody, but we remain open to having open and honest conversations about how we can reach a viable and realistic settlement that protects the best interests of teacher, children and young people and our wider communities.”

What has EIS said about the strikes?

EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley described the 6.85% pay offer as “a kick in the teeth from their employers and the Scottish government”. She added: "Our programme of strike action will clearly show the strength of feeling of Scotland’s teachers who will be out in numbers and with strong voices on picket lines and at regional rallies."

The union has also not been able to rule out any further action. Families have been told to prepare for further possible action in December and into 2023, however these dates have not been confirmed as of yet.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) is already planning to strike on Wednesday 7 December and Thursday 8 December. Much like the EIS’s dispute with Cosla, the SSTA has called the pay offer “pathetic”, adding that teachers had been “misled” over the offer.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the SSTA, said: “The Scottish Government and Cosla have deliberately misled the teachers’ unions into believing a serious increased pay offer would be made.After three months what we received was a pathetic and insulting pay offer that penalised senior teachers to the benefit of a very small number of new entrants.

“This treatment only shows contempt for teachers. How they think this is a sensible offer is beyond belief. A misleading statement by the Scottish Government that falsely twists statistics to try and give the impression that this is a serious and substantial pay offer only compounds the feeling of contempt.

“For the vast majority of teachers there is no new offer. SSTA members have no option but to continue with planned strike action on December 7 and 8.”

Shirley-Anne Sommerville has refuted claims that the Scottish Government and Cosla have “misled” staff with their offer. She labelled the claims as “simply untrue”.