School exams could be disrupted next year after Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) staff voted “overwhelmingly” for strike action in a dispute about pay.

The Unite union said that hundreds of workers backed a ballot for industrial action, including administrators, managers, processors and researchers.

The pay dispute centres on the SQA’s two-year pay offer for 2023 and 2024. For the majority of Unite’s members, the current SQA offer equates to 5.75% in 2023, and 3.15% in 2024. 

The union says this is a below-inflation pay rise which is unacceptable to members.

READ MORE: Scotland school strikes in pictures

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. ”

Industrial action was backed by 72% on of the union's members an 80% turnout.

The Herald:

Unite is also drawing attention to the fact that around 38% of all SQA workers have hit a pay ceiling, and therefore are not eligible for any pay progression.

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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.” 

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“There remains 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.”   

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.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While operational decisions on pay and staffing matters are the responsibility of the SQA, the Scottish Government is concerned by the potential impact of any action on students.

"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."