Teaching unions and the Scottish Government “remain some distance apart” from agreeing on the affordability of an improved pay offer, Scotland’s Education Secretary has said.
Primary schools around the country have closed after last-ditch talks failed to prevent strike action, with secondary school staff set to walk out on Wednesday.
Unions have demanded a 10% pay increase but the Scottish Government has offered 5%, including rises of up to 6.85% for the lowest-paid staff.
A meeting of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), which brings together unions, local authorities and the Scottish Government, took place on Monday in an attempt to avert the strike action.
Speaking on BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland program, Shirley-Anne Somerville said Monday’s talks were “constructive” but described the union pay demands as “simply unaffordable”.
After talks ended in failure, members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), NASUWT, Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) and the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) are taking strike action.
It follows SSTA and NASUWT members taking two days of action in December while EIS members walked out on November 24.
Asked whether she expected a new offer to be on the table before the end of the week, Ms Somerville said: “We’ll continue discussions with the unions. I think the challenge that we have is we remain some distance apart on what the Scottish Government and local government can afford and can put on the table from the union demand which is of course a 10% increase in pay.
“If that had been accepted, if the 5% had been accepted, you would’ve actually seen teachers have a 21.8% cumulative rise since 2018.
“So we’re trying very hard to have a fair and affordable package on the table but we do remain unfortunately some distance apart.”
She added: “The pay demands we’re having from our trade union colleagues are simply unaffordable for the Scottish Government working on a fixed budget, already allocated, also eroded by inflation and that does make it a very difficult and challenging process to come to. a conclusion and resolution on.”
However, she said she is hoping to get back around the table with unions later this week.
Earlier in the program, Mike Corbett, NASUWT Scotland national official, echoed the concerns that unions and government were still far away from agreement on pay.
He said the last offer made in November was “dressed up as an improved offer” but did not improve pay for the “vast majority of teachers”.
He added: “There’s still no formal revised offer on the table and that is the reason why our members and others feel they’ve got no alternative but to be out on strike again today and tomorrow.”
Asked whether the union would be prepared to settle for somewhere between what they are being offered and 10%, he said: “I think what would need to happen first of all is there needs to be a properly improved offer tabled and – we are a member-led union – if we get what we deem to be a decent offer then it’s up to our members to decide what they think about it.
“But we’re just not at that stage at the moment – although there are some grounds for optimism, the fact that there have been talks on Friday and Monday and there’s been a little bit of progress made.”