Unions take city to tribunal in maternity pay dispute

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TWO teaching unions are taking the city council to an employment tribunal for refusing to backdate pay for holidays accrued by teachers on maternity leave.

The legal battle, which will involve more than 50 Edinburgh teachers, is set to start next month and could act as a test case for councils across Scotland. If the women win their cases, the council will have to pay out around £65,000.

The legal challenge centres on a ruling introduced by the European Court of Justice in 2008 stating that an employee who had taken a year’s maternity leave was still entitled to accrue the holidays she would have had over that period.

This changed the maximum amount of compensatory leave teachers could claim from a maximum of ten days to up to 66 days. But the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers did not agree the change to teachers’ conditions of service until May 2010.

The two largest teaching unions, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA), argue that teachers who were on maternity leave between late 2008 – when the ruling was introduced – and May 2010 have the right to claim backdated holiday pay. Many Scottish councils have already settled with their employees, but Edinburgh is one of 14 authorities which has refused to do so.

Edinburgh is the first council being targeted by the EIS and SSTA, and the outcome of the legal challenge will set a precedent, affecting hundreds of teachers across Scotland.

Jim Docherty, depute general secretary of the SSTA, said: “This legal battle surrounds the date at which the changes became applicable. We say it’s from 2008 and they say it’s May 2010. To us, the issue is clear.

“The idea that the date in 2010 is the date this should start from because that’s when employers sent out notifications of it is just fatuous. If the council had offered a reasonable amount to the women before it got to this stage, then that would have helped. Edinburgh has a terrible tendency to put aside any problem and hope that it is going to go away.”

A pre-hearing review is scheduled for December 21, and an employment tribunal is set to follow in the new year.

A council spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment given that the tribunal is ongoing.”

A spokesman for Cosla, the local authority umbrella organisation, said: “Councils should take their own legal advice, and consequently their own decision, having regard to the individual circumstances of each case.”