The Scottish Government wants a deal to be done to end teachers’ strikes across Scotland as soon as possible, Nicola Sturgeon has said – but she conceded there is still a “gap” between union demands and what is affordable.
The First Minister spoke out as industrial action by the EIS and AHDS unions continued to disrupt schools, with teachers in Moray and North Lanarkshire out of classes on Thursday.
More talks are scheduled to take place on Friday involving the Scottish Government, councils chiefs at Cosla and the unions, in a bid to resolve the dispute over pay.
And Ms Sturgeon, speaking in Holyrood insisted that ministers wanted to reach a deal that was both “fair and affordable”.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, she insisted: “This is a Government that values public sector workers and seeks to negotiate fair pay deals.
“To that end, we continue to work closely with trade unions and local government partners to reach a deal that is fair and affordable.”
While she said discussions so far had been “constructive”, the First Minister added: “There does still remain a gap between (what) the union asks and, to be blunt, what is affordable within our finite resources and therefore we look for further compromise.”
Teaching unions have been demanding a 10% pay rise, with strike dates now extending into April.
However, Ms Sturgeon insisted that “certainly it is a commitment of this Government to reach an agreement as soon as possible”.
The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, which brings together unions, the Government and local authority leaders, met twice last week to try to find a way through the dispute, with Ms Sturgeon saying more talks are planned for Friday.
Tory education spokesman Stephen Kerr said, however, that the strikes were causing “chaos for hundreds of thousands of parents and carers and pupils”.
He hit out at Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, saying she “shows no energy, no urgency, to get involved and to resolve the teachers’ strike”.
He called on Ms Sturgeon to get involved in the talks directly, saying: “The First Minister used to say that education was her top priority. Will she step in and end the strike?”
The First Minister hit back, accusing the Tories of hypocrisy.
She told MSPs: “Shirley-Anne Somerville will continue to do everything possible to reach an agreement with Cosla and our teaching unions to deliver a fair pay increase for teachers.
“Over the past few years, teachers have already had a 21% pay increase, demonstrating the value we attach to what they do.”
But she also insisted: “As teachers strikes loom in England, the hypocrisy of the Tories is absolutely staggering.”
Ms Sturgeon accused UK ministers of refusing to negotiate with teaching unions, saying of the Conservatives: “In Scotland they demand that the Education Secretary resolves it.
“In England the Tories simply wash their hands and dig their heels in because they don’t value public sector workers.”
EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley said: “The Cabinet Secretary said recently that she would ‘leave no stone unturned’ in her effort to reach a fair pay agreement with Scotland’s teachers. Today, in Parliament, the First Minister has lauded the Cabinet Secretary’s ‘strenuous efforts’ in negotiations.
“Sadly, neither the apparent strenuous efforts nor the turning over of stones have yet led to an improved pay offer to Scotland’s teachers.”
Ms Bradley added: “The reality is that our members are not prepared to accept the sub-inflation 5% that has repeatedly been offered, and only a substantially improved offer from the Scottish Government and Cosla can end this dispute.
“Strike action will continue until that improved offer is on the table for our members.”