Teachers’ unions and the Scottish government are “standing some distance” from agreeing the affordability of an improved pay offer, the Scottish Education Secretary has said.
Primary schools across the country have closed after last-minute talks failed to prevent the strike, and high school staff will walk out on Wednesday.
Unions have demanded a 10% pay increase, but the Scottish Government has offered 5%, including increases of up to 6.85% for the lowest paid staff.
A meeting of the Scottish Teachers Bargaining Committee (SNCT), which brings together unions, local authorities and the Scottish government, took place on Monday in a bid to avert the strike.
Speaking on BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Shirley-Anne Somerville said Monday’s talks were “constructive” but described union wage demands as “simply unaffordable”.
After talks ended in failure, members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), NASUWT, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) and the Association of Headmasters and Deputies of Scotland (AHDS) are on strike.
It follows SSTA and NASUWT members taking two days of action in December, while EIS members walked out on November 24.
Asked if she expected a new offer to be on the table before the end of the week, Ms Somerville said: “We will continue discussions with the unions. I think the challenge we have is that we stand some distance from what the Scottish government and local government can afford and can put on the table for the union demand which of course is a 10% pay increase.
“If you had accepted that, if you had accepted 5%, you would have actually seen teachers have a cumulative increase of 21.8% since 2018.
“So we’ve tried really hard to have a fair and affordable package on the table, but unfortunately we’re still some distance away.”
He added: “The wage demands we have from our union colleagues are simply unaffordable for the Scottish Government working on a fixed budget, already allocated, also eroded by inflation and that makes it a very difficult and challenging process to come to a conclusion and resolution on.”
However, he said he hopes to come back to the table with the unions later this week.
Earlier on the show, Mike Corbett, national officer for NASUWT Scotland, echoed concerns that unions and government were still some way from agreeing on wages.
He said the last offer made in November was “disguised as an improved offer” but did not improve pay for the “vast majority of teachers.”
He added: “There is still no revised formal offer on the table and that is the reason why our members and others feel they have no alternative but to strike again today and tomorrow.”
Asked if the union would be prepared to settle for something between what they are offered and 10%, he said: “I think what would have to happen first is that you have to come up with a suitably improved offer and, we are a Member-run union: If we get what we consider 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 right now, although there is some cause for optimism, the fact that there were talks on Friday and Monday and some progress has been made.”