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Pension row set to run and run

Lecturers must be seen as special case, argue unions. Steve Hook reports

College managers are settling in for the long haul in their campaign to take the sting out of the Government's proposals for public-sector pensions.

Plans to increase the age at which lecturers can retire with a full pension from 60 to 65, while unpopular with individual staff, could also exacerbate recruitment problems, according to the Association for College Management.

The Government has already said lecturers aged more than 50 will not be affected.

Peter Pendle, the ACM's general secretary, says he believes a collaborative approach by all the public-sector unions will bring further concessions.

The ACM and Natfhe, the lecturers' union, both supported public-sector reform at the Trades Union Congress conference in Brighton last week, and Mr Pendle says the development vindicates his union's decision to obtain TUC membership. The union's national helpline had its busiest-ever day when The TES carried the story of the increased retirement age on June 20.

Mr Pendle said: "Not being able to access the pension scheme at the age of 60 is a big thing for a lot of our members. People may say we should be able to work until we are 65, but that is not the point.

"The pension is a condition of service. A lot of people may choose to continue working at 60 but it should be a choice. They have said people over 50 won't suffer. They can go at 50 if they want to. We would like to have no change at all. This change is another thing that will hinder recruitment.

"One reason people come into teaching is because it is not the private sector and they are doing it for vocational reasons. Retirement at 60 is a bit of a pay-off. Removing that is going to make it more difficult to recruit and retain staff.

"My guess is that what the Government is floating at the moment will be watered down."

There are fears that recruitment will become harder because the pension package is seen as a key selling point in public-sector jobs. This adds to colleges' financial difficulties resulting from the increase in pension and national insurance contributions.

In general FE, these higher costs have eaten into the extra money announced by Education Secretary Charles Clarke last year and, in sixth-form colleges, employers have warned of a possible pay freeze. Many managers feel that education should be seen as a case apart because of the strains of the job.

Dorothy Jones, principal of Southwark College, in south London, says life for lecturers in inner-city general FE institutions is simply too stressful not to allow them a chance to retire at 60.

She warned that students will find themselves being taught by lecturers who are "burnt out" and are forced to continue in their jobs: "We could find ourselves hit with higher costs and lower recruitment. Nobody wants to be taught by someone who would be better off retiring."

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