First national strikes since the Eighties still on course

11th November 2011 at 00:00
Unions committed to industrial action over pensions, despite concessions from Government

Scottish teachers are still gearing up for their first national strike since the 1980s, despite UK Government moves to water down pension reforms.

There is talk behind the scenes that ministers could bow to pressure and scale back their plans still further, but teaching unions were still committed to a day of action on 30 November as TESS went to press this week.

The Government last week offered concessions including more generous accrual rates - the rate at which pensions build up in value - and a higher limit on contributions it pays, in an attempt to avert a strike by millions of public-sector workers across the UK.

EIS assistant secretary Drew Morrice said while it would be churlish not to admit that the Government had gone some way in attempting to appease anger over its proposals, the changed picture "doesn't affect the ballot at all".

The EIS ballot - in which 82 per cent of voters wanted to strike - was based on the issue of increased contributions from workers; on this issue, Mr Morrice stressed, the Government's position had not changed. Concerns remain, too, about the linking of salaries to the state pension age and the prospect of people working until the age of 68.

The finer detail of an announcement about the changes by Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, would take some time to tease out, Mr Morrice added.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said the result of his union's ballot in favour of strike action still stood, at least for now.

That was because proposals for increased contributions remained in place, as did measures affecting people more than 10 years from retirement.

Senior figures in AHDS will meet on Tuesday to discuss the way forward, with information they had gleaned from trade unions in England suggesting the picture could shift yet again in the interim.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the union's executive was recommending a vote in favour of strike action - ballot papers were sent out this week - and that most members contacting head office were strongly in favour.

The information from Mr Alexander had been far from clear, she said, and the concessions appeared to have done little to change the mood among SSTA members.

Scotland's Education Secretary, Michael Russell, last week urged teachers not to strike, even though he agreed it was "wrong" to ask people for bigger contributions at a time of salary freezes.

"I agree that these proposals are unacceptable, but I don't think strike action in our schools is the best way, and campaigning is," he told the AHDS annual conference. "If we can find some way to campaign together, then I shall campaign with you against these pension increases, and I hope we can defeat them."

Meanwhile, Scotland's newest teaching union, the Scottish Primary Teachers' Association, has decided not to ballot on strike action. Instead, it is seeking a meeting with Scotland's Finance Secretary, John Swinney, to discuss concerns.

Ballot results

EIS

Yes - 82.2% (24,426 votes)

No - 17.8% (5,276 votes)

Turnout - 54.2%

AHDS

Yes - 59.7% (508 votes)

No - 40.3% (309 votes)

Turnout - 37.9%

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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