Exam results could be disrupted next year after Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) staff voted for strike action in a dispute over pay, a union has warned.
Unite the union said its members have backed strike action for the second year running after being offered an “entirely unacceptable” two-year pay offer for 2023 and 2024.
The union claimed that for the majority of its members, the current SQA offer equates to no more than 5.75% in 2023, and 3.15% in 2024, while inflation has varied between 8.9% and 13.8% throughout 2023.
Hundreds of Unite members at SQA working in roles including as administrators, managers, processors and researchers, backed strike action by 72% on an 80% turnout.
The SQA said the pay deal is “fair and reasonable” and represents the maximum amount that is affordable and permitted by the Scottish Government’s pay strategy.
Alison Maclean, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite’s members at the SQA have resoundingly backed strike action for the second year running.
“This should come as no surprise to senior management. We have repeatedly told them the pay offer was entirely unacceptable.
“We will now discuss potential dates for industrial action which could affect the SQA’s ability to provide exam results next year.”
SQA staff walked out on strike for the first time in their history last September in a dispute over pay before accepting an improved wage offer.
The Scottish Government announced plans to replace the SQA and Education Scotland two years ago, with new agencies expected to start work in summer 2024.
However, legislation was delayed to allow ministers to consider various expert reports into education reform and is now expected to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in 2024.
She said: “There remain a number of outstanding issues in relation to the scrapping of the SQA which have still not been addressed.
“The nation’s new qualifications body is set to be up and running in 2025. Yet, we have been given no clarity on how this organisation will operate.
“It simply isn’t good enough, which is why the Scottish Government and SQA management repeatedly fail our members’ confidence test.”
The union said it has specific concerns over the scrapping of the SQA, and the lack of assurances over job roles and locations, conditions and pay of the existing SQA workforce, in any new organisation, which it claims have not been addressed.
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “The resounding mandate for strike action is a direct result of senior management’s failure to make a fair pay offer.
“Unless this is quickly addressed then our members will have no option but to take strike action in the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions at the SQA.”
An SQA spokesperson said: “The pay deal on offer is fair and reasonable, and represents the maximum amount that is affordable and permitted by the Scottish Government’s pay strategy.
“It represents a total average increase of 7.43% in year one and a further total average rise of 5.19% in year two, taking into account pay progression.
“Industrial action is not in the interests of learners. We are committed to minimising any disruption and have contingency plans in place to protect delivery of vital services.
“The majority of SQA colleagues are not members of Unite. SQA employs around 1100 colleagues.”
“We continue to urge employers and trade unions to make every effort to reach a settlement which is both fair and affordable with a view to resolving this dispute.”
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr MSP said: “Pupils and parents across Scotland will be dismayed by the prospect of SQA strike action. The last thing our young people need is further disruption to their education.
“If this situation isn’t resolved, then unions are already warning about the adverse impact on pupils’ exam results next year.
“The onus is on the SNP Government to get everyone round the table and pull out all the stops to avoid this strike action from going ahead.”