'Blackmailed' over pay

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Teachers rail at minister's threat that half per cent extra could hurt pupils' education

THE GOVERNMENT is warning teachers off asking for an extra half per cent pay rise, saying it could mean cutting one-to-one tuition for half a million children.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said anything more than a basic 2 per cent pay rise would threaten Britain's economic stability and schools'

ability to hire more staff.

Unions have angrily rejected his threats and are pushing closer to national industrial action in co-ordination with other public sector workers such as nurses and civil servants. Brendan Barber, the secretary general of the Trades Union Congress, will say today that the Government has lost the support of public sector workers, with a "crisis of commitment and morale".

Mr Johnson's warning, contained in his submission to the School Teachers' Review Body on pay from 2008 to 2011, comes as he campaigns for the Labour deputy leadership. As The TES went to press, Ladbrokes had taken more than pound;10,000 in wagers on Mr Johnson being elected, putting him in a race with Hilary Benn.

Whether or not he wins, his campaign increases the likelihood that he will no longer be Education Secretary and dealing with teachers, after Gordon Brown takes office as prime minister.

The unions have cited economists' projections that inflation will remain above 3.5 per cent - far higher than the 2 per cent pay rise that Mr Johnson and Mr Brown are willing to concede.

Mr Johnson said salaries for core public sector workers including teachers, nurses, police and the armed forces cost pound;50 billion a year and so any increase had a significant impact on the economy.

The Government would be willing to increase teacher numbers to pay for more teachers to personalise learning, but only if their pay rise remained at no more than 2 per cent. "A settlement of 0.5 per cent above this level would equate to an additional pound;250 million cost pressure by 2010-11, equivalent to one-to-one support for around 500,000 pupils," he said.

An extra 0.5 per cent would equate to pound;100 a year, or pound;2 a week before tax is deducted, for a newly qualified teacher.

Mr Johnson said it was not worth the risk. "It is essential that today's pay awards do not jeopardise tomorrow's jobs in the public sector and the economy as a whole."

Teachers' pay has risen more than most other public sector workers under the Labour Government, he said. But unions argued that clamping down on pay now would drive teachers out of the profession, making it impossible to deliver the Government's ambitious programmes of personalised learning, extended schools and keeping teenagers in education or training till 18.

Teachers' and public servants' unions in London are joining to rally for better pay later this month.

Jonathan Maunder, 25, who is in his first year of teaching, in south London, said pound;2 extra would not even buy a sandwich or a pint of beer. "It would buy me one London bus ticket," he said.

"This smacks of hypocrisy. Johnson's putting himself forward in the leadership race as from a union background, yet he restricts teachers' pay to such an extent."

The National Union of Teachers has called for a 10 per cent pay rise and other teachers' unions have called for a substantial above-inflation pay rise.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT, said Mr Johnson had a stark choice: pay teachers adequately, or watch his reforms fail. "We are committed to a campaign on pay," she said. "Depending on the members response to this, that may include industrial action."

The NUT met nurses and other public sector unions last week to discuss co-ordinated action. Steve Sinnott, the union's general secretary, said the effective pay cut proposed by the Government would mean there would not be the teachers to provide one-to-one tuition.

Alex Kenny, of the Socialist Teachers' Alliance, describedJMr Johnson's ultimatum over pay as "emotional blackmail".

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