SQA staff to stage strike action over ‘brutal pay cut’

Hundreds of Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) staff will take strike action later this month in response to what their union has labelled a “brutal pay cut”.

Around 400 workers, represented by Unite, will stage two 24-hour stoppages on February 23 and 29 amid their pay dispute.

The industrial action will also include an overtime ban, a ban on weekend working, and a ban on accruing time off in lieu between February 16 and May 10.

The union said the industrial action will have a “major impact” on the SQA’s ability to prepare for exam season, but the SQA accused Unite of “scaremongering” and said the pay deal is the “best offer possible”.

Unite said the SQA’s two-year pay offer for 2023 and 2024 “represents a real-terms pay cut”, and the union claimed the Scottish Government has “run for cover” to avoid accountability amid the dispute.

The union said for the majority of its members, the pay offer equates to a 5.75% rise in 2023, and 3.15% in 2024.

It said this is a real-terms pay cut due to the broader inflation applicable to the pay award having reached 13.8% in February 2023, adding inflation regularly reached double digits throughout last year.

Industrial strike
Unite chief Sharon Graham said the SQA pay offer on the table is ‘totally unacceptable’ (Jacob King/PA)

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Unite’s SQA members are being forced by senior management to take industrial action.

“The pay offer on the table represents a brutal pay cut and it’s totally unacceptable.

“Unite will support our members all the way in the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions at the SQA.”

Unite said strike action will disrupt the external verification process, which will impact quality assurance and the awarding of qualifications.

It will also disrupt coursework marking for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher level courses, Unite said.

The striking staff work in all grades and job roles at the SQA, including researchers, administrators, processors and managerial positions.

Unite said the SQA had falsely accused it of failing to make its members aware of the current pay officer, prior to an industrial action ballot held in November.

The union said it “extensively consulted” its members, who “overwhelmingly” rejected all pay offers from the SQA.

It said 80% of Unite members working for the SQA voted, with 72% supporting industrial action.

Alison Maclean, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite has attempted to resolve this dispute through negotiation.

“We have nonetheless hit a brick wall because SQA management are just incapable of listening to our members’ fair pay aspirations.

“Disappointingly but predictably, Scottish Government ministers have also run for cover, claiming the dispute has got nothing to do with them when they are the paymasters.

“The industrial action will have a major impact on the coursework marking and external verification process. The blame for any disruption lies entirely with the SQA’s intractable management and the Scottish Government’s inaction.”

An SQA spokesman said: “This is nothing more than scaremongering by Unite. We have robust contingency plans in place and we can reassure learners that there will be no impact on their coursework, exams or grades.

“We made an increased pay offer that fairly recognises the valuable work of our SQA colleagues.

“It represents a total average increase of 7.43% in year one and a further total average rise of 5.19% in year two, including pay progression.

“It is the best offer possible which is affordable and within the limits of the public sector pay strategy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While this is a matter for SQA as the employer, the Scottish Government remains in close contact with them and has strongly encouraged resolution talks to resume.

“We will be seeking further reassurances from SQA that learners will not experience disruption to their exams, coursework or grades.”