Pensions negotiations falter in clash of the unions

13th January 2012 at 00:00
The big two refuse to accept the deal and threaten further strikes

If you thought the drama of last year's national strikes, school closures, rallies and marches had been consigned to the history books of classroom trade unionism, you may have to think again.

Given the anger brewing at plans to overhaul teachers' pensions, the government's goal of forcing through the basis for a deal before Christmas was always going to be ambitious.

Now it seems that the Department for Education's approach may once again be faltering, with the two biggest teaching unions - the NASUWT and the NUT - last week moving to strengthen their stances. Both reiterated their refusal to accept the latest deal on offer, firing fresh broadsides at ministers for their heavy-handed approach to negotiations, which NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates described as a "debacle". "We are not going to be pressurised in that way," she told TES.

Four of the unions involved in negotiations - the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), ATL, heads' union the NAHT and Voice - have already agreed to consult with their members about the latest offer, having achieved some concessions from ministers. But it is now clearer than ever that the NASUWT and the NUT - as well as the University and College Union and Welsh teaching union UCAC - beg to differ. "More than half of ASCL and NAHT members would be covered by the transitional arrangements (protecting those within 10 years of retirement from the changes)," Ms Keates said. "I can see why the NAHT and ASCL might find it not as unattractive to them as it clearly is to teachers."

After consulting with senior members of their executives, the big two unions have both insisted that more government funding must be provided before they agree to anything. ATL general secretary Mary Bousted warned that further industrial action "could lead to significantly worse terms than are currently offered".

A DfE spokesman described the statements by the NASUWT and the NUT as "disappointing", contrasting them with the "more positive response" given by the other unions. "The deal on the table is as good as it gets. We've addressed many concerns, particularly around early retirement, and are now ready to have discussions to reach a final settlement," he added.

It is not just schools that face industrial unrest. The NUT is balloting its members in sixth-form colleges over discontinuous strike action over the Sixth Form Colleges Forum's (SFCF) refusal to offer an annual pay rise. The NASUWT - already covered for industrial action by its ballot in November - is keen to coordinate its next move with the NUT. The ATL's executive will decide whether to ballot when it meets later this month.

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