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Pensions 'sell-out' claim

Union leaders are accused of failing new entrants to the profession.

Elizabeth Buie reports from the EIS conference in Dundee

Would-be teachers are being sold out by union negotiators, argued delegates at the Educational Institute of Scotland conference in a row over pensions reform.

Angry delegates at last week's Dundee gathering leapt to the defence of new teachers, who will have to work till 65 to receive their full pension rights under Government plans. Only current teachers will retain the right to retire at 60 with full rights.

A call for a ballot for industrial action to maintain the same rights for future entrants was defeated by 199 to 109 votes, but in a separate motion, the AGM voted by 156 to 127 votes in favour of a campaign being led by the EIS Council for all members to be able to retire at 55 on a full pension.

The two votes will pose a dilemma for the union's leadership, presenting as they do conflicting instructions from AGM delegates.

What surfaced in the debate was the feeling that teaching should be treated akin to police and fire-fighters who can retire at 55, albeit having paid much higher pension contributions.

Bob McAlpine, from the Western Isles, who retires at 60 at the end of this session, told the conference: "There is a much greater cost to many of our members of staying on year after year, soldiering on in very difficult conditions in the classroom.

"In a few weeks I shall be free. I am one in four, because only one in four of my generation of teachers has made it to this stage. Some have left the profession, some died in service, some have taken ill- health retirement.

That's a worrying statistic.

"I am glad to be out but I would have been gladder to be out at 55. And I would have been happy to pay much more than I have (in pension contributions) to get out then."

Sid Perry, from East Dunbartonshire, described the case of a colleague who was retiring early at 57 - and losing 15 per cent of his pension rights - because he could not carry on any longer.

But Dougie Mackie, a former president and delegate from Argyll and Bute, told the conference: "There are 11 million people in this country who have no pensions - mainly women workers. Are we seriously saying that in the current cultural climate, we can ignore the 11 million who don't have pensions and win public support for teachers to have full pension rights at 55?"

As a local branch secretary, he said he knew the toll that teaching took on some staff. The union should be fighting for improvements to the ill-health retirement scheme. Those campaigning for the opportunity to retire at 55 on full pension rights were engaging in "aspirational rhetoric", he said.

In the earlier debate over industrial action to ensure that new teachers would enjoy the same right to retire at 60 with full pension rights, instead of 65 as agreed under TUC and Government negotiations, the EIS leadership was urged not to "sell out future members of this union".

(Details of the Scottish teachers' pensions agreement are still being finalised.) Annie McCrae, Edinburgh, told the AGM that the Public Service Forum agreement was not yet a done deal.

Penny Gower, of the Further Education Lecturers' Association section of the EIS, said new teachers would come into the industry saddled with loans, unable to afford a mortgage and would have to work longer in a stressful industry. They would die in service or shortly afterwards, she warned delegates.

But May Ferries, from Glasgow, told the conference: "Everyone was horrified at the prospect of an additional 1,000 days of raising standards before retirement. They voted for industrial action and that threat to their pensions has been removed. They are now very relieved."

She added: "But I don't think our members will take industrial action for people who are not yet in our union. I don't think they are that altruistic."

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