Early release packages on the cards

7th June 2013 at 01:00
Call for those worst affected by pension reforms to be offered `winding down' deal

The 20,000 Scottish teachers worst hit by the changes to pensions could be offered early release packages, TESS has learned.

Today, at the annual general meeting of the EIS teaching union, general secretary Larry Flanagan will call on education secretary Michael Russell to make rapid progress on the introduction of early retirement or winding- down schemes for teachers who thought they would be retiring at 60 but now face working until they are 67 or 68.

The Scottish government agreed to look at lessening the impact of the UK government changes to pensions through workforce planning at a hastily convened meeting between the EIS, Mr Russell and finance secretary John Swinney.

The meeting took place after a consultative ballot revealed in March that 91 per cent of Scottish teachers would be willing to strike over changes to their pensions. In a ballot conducted a year earlier, 73.5 per cent were in favour of strike action.

Today, Mr Flanagan will say: "The Scottish government has declared on a number of occasions that it doesn't support the UK pension changes. The sidebar discussion gives it an opportunity to deliver on that rhetoric by protecting Scottish teachers from the main impact of the changes - in a way that it has failed to do with regard to contribution increases which have been enacted."

Failure to make progress would result in pensions remaining centre stage "all the way up to the referendum, and even beyond that", Mr Flanagan will warn.

Earlier this year, the Scottish government said it would increase the contribution rate for the Scottish teachers' pension scheme.

Mr Russell insisted that the government's hands were tied and that the pension reforms were being imposed by the UK Treasury.

But teacher unions continue to campaign for a "Scottish solution" to plans by the UK government to link teachers' pensions to the later retirement ages of 67 initially, then 68. They want the Scottish government to allow teachers to retire at 65 without significant loss of pension entitlement.

However, the Treasury has yet to be convinced by the arguments for an alternative scheme being put forward by the Scottish Teachers' Pension Scheme Negotiating Group, which includes representatives from Scottish government, employers and unions. A meeting was meant to take place with Treasury actuaries in Scotland on 3 June but was postponed.

In pensions terms, Scottish teachers fall into three categories: those exempt from the changes and set to retire at 60; those who were set to retire at 65 but who now face working until their late sixties; and those who were set to retire at 60 but who now face retiring at 67 or 68.

If those in the last group opt to leave teaching early, they stand to lose about 4.5 per cent of their occupational pension per year. Thus, if they retire five years early they stand to lose a fifth of their pension.

Some 20,000 Scottish teachers are in this position. They are aged from their early thirties to mid-forties and are considered to be worst hit by the changes.

A Scottish government spokesperson said the government had been working with teaching unions and employers to find a Scottish solution but that this had been made more difficult by the "the significant constraints" imposed by the Treasury.

But the Scottish government could still agree to pay out for early retirements separately from the main pension scheme.

"Ministers have asked officials to work with teachers' and employers' representatives to consider whether existing mechanisms for early or partial retirement could help mitigate the impact of teachers having to work longer," a government spokesman said.


Industrial action on the EIS agenda

Teachers at the EIS annual general meeting will vote today on whether to ballot members for industrial action to protect current pension arrangements.

They will also discuss whether to strike before the end of the year over the increased workload associated with Curriculum for Excellence; the current crisis in supply teaching and its impact on schools; the impact of council budget cuts; and whether to campaign for the introduction of universal free school meals.

The meeting, which got under way in Perth yesterday, will continue until Saturday, when education secretary Michael Russell will become the first politician to address the conference. He will also take questions from teachers.

Photo credit: Alamy

Original headline: Pensions crisis may lead to early release packages

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