Unions have announced the first ever strikes at Scotland’s national exam body, threatening the results of thousands of pupils.

Unite said workers at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) would take three days of strike action between now and results day in the first week of August.

The dates have been chosen to target the period when marks for National, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications are processed and certificates produced for candidates.

Union leaders also said there would be an overtime ban in place in the week leading up to 6th August 6.

Any delays to certification would have a knock-on impact on the ability of pupils to take up university and college places or employment. SQA staff also answer pupil queries on a national helpline and process appeals.

Unite, which represents hundreds of SQA workers, said the exam body had been involved in an internal restructuring process that left a number of workers without specific job roles.

As a result, Unite members raised a collective dispute with the SQA due to concerns over the organisation’s ability to restructure in a “fair and competent manner”.

Strike action had been put on hold pending talks with the conciliation service Acas, but Unite said discussions had not led to sufficient progress.

Alison MacLean, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “The suspension of industrial action was predicated on the SQA fulfilling its commitments, but management has now created a situation even worse than a few months ago.

“The workforce are already stressed, demoralised and dismayed.

“Unite will now hold our first ever industrial action at the SQA starting on June 26 and this will be ongoing.

“There will also be an overtime ban in place in the week leading up to August 6, which is exam results day in Scotland.

“This dispute has been created, directed and exacerbated at every turn by SQA mismanagement and incompetence of the highest order. Unless immediate action is taken to address our members’ legitimate concerns then more days of action will be inevitable.”

The latest concerns centre on staff who took voluntary redundancy as a last resort and part of the restructuring process, but who now want to be considered for new roles with the SQA.

Unite is angry the staff do not have that opportunity, which has triggered the current strike plan.

An SQA spokesman said: “Under the auspices of Acas, we agreed a positive way forward with the Unite union, agreeing a detailed action plan that continues to be delivered.  

“Whilst we realise that actions will continue over the coming months, so far:
l We have held individual meetings with colleagues currently in the redeployment pool as a result of Business Systems restructuring to understand the situation and discuss options available to them.

l We have surveyed those colleagues who have recently gone through a restructure, and anonymous results will be shared with our union partners, and an action plan will be developed with senior managers.

l We have consulted on the collective grievance action plan. This has concluded and all actions resulting from are either in progress, or have been completed.

l Unite representatives have been involved in shaping the culture transformation and values-led leadership programme.

l Eleven out of 13 agreed points relating to Workforce Development and Training planning have now been completed.

l Independent auditors have agreed to guide and support our process for ongoing audit of the application of all HR policies and procedures with trade unions.

“We are committed to working in partnership with the Unite union and have made significant progress on the process that is undertaken in a restructure. 

“We are also committed to listen to, and address, the important issues that have been raised by its members. We are focussed on relationship building and moving forward, together, into the future.

“The SQA is fully committed to ensuring candidates receive their results on time. We have an established governance framework in place, where progress and risks are managed, supported by robust contingency plans.”

“SQA has also concluded its Voluntary Early Release scheme. As an organisation we continue to evolve our products and services to meet the changing needs of our stakeholders and customers, such as the need to make cost efficiencies.

"The VER scheme was introduced as part of our response to these changing needs. The scheme has also created opportunities for employees to be considered for voluntary early release from the organisation with financial compensation, where this is of mutual benefit to the employee and to SQA.”

Ninety per cent of Unite members backed strike action on an 80.5% turnout. Some 95% voted for industrial action short of a strike.