'Pensions robbery' on the cards

9th September 2011 at 01:00
Higher contributions for support staff could mean employers pay less

While school and college support staff face the prospect of paying higher pensions contributions, their employers could controversially end up putting less into the pot, it has emerged.

Documents seen by The TES suggest that the Treasury is considering using the proposed hike in monthly payments for non-teaching staff to "protect jobs and services" and effectively offset education funding cuts.

Education unions said the "extraordinary" proposed changes to the local government pension scheme (LGPS) would see staff forced to pay to "save their own jobs".

In a letter sent to the Association of Colleges (AoC) in June, Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, wrote: "Any savings from increasing employee contributions to the LGPS will fall to local government and participating employers, helping to support jobs and local services."

If the proposals, currently being thrashed out with union officials, get the go-ahead, local government employers, including academies, local authorities and colleges, could see their pensions bill go down.

In an internal memo sent to AoC members, seen by The TES, the association's chief executive Martin Doel said Mr Alexander's letter "implies reductions in employer contributions".

"If this is the route taken by pension funds, college balance sheets also stand to benefit," he added.

Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at education union the ATL, said: "It seems that low-paid workers are being told they are paying to protect their own jobs and services; it's extraordinary. Low- paid people shouldn't have to pay for shortfalls caused by the Government's policies. It seems the precise opposite of what the Government says about fairness."

Public-sector union Unison, which represents school and college support staff, said the "pensions robbery" could prompt a mass exodus from the LGPS.

Jon Richards, Unison's senior national officer for education, said: "This Government is now in very real danger of pricing school and college staff out of the pension scheme altogether. If this happens, the future viability of the whole scheme will be under threat."

Workers had been told that they would have to pay 3.2 per cent more into the scheme, but in the latest proposals from the Department for Communities and Local Government the rises are staggered.

Staff earning pound;24,000 or under would face no increase. Those earning pound;24,001-pound;31,500 could see their contributions rise by a fifth to 7.8 per cent in 201213 and by 50 per cent to 9.7 per cent in 201415.

AoC employment director Evan Williams said the association was "concerned" about increasing staff contributions, and had written to the Treasury outlining its objections.

"We understand that any increases are likely to be phased according to a sliding scale, so that the lowest-paid staff will not be affected," he added.

A Treasury spokesman said: "We want public-service pensions to remain among the very best available. But people are living longer so pensions are costing more. That's why we need to change pensions so they are fairer and more sustainable."

Action: Mass Parliament protest planned

Up to 25,000 teachers and lecturers will gather at Parliament for a mass protest at plans to change teachers' pensions.

As part of the joint campaign by seven classroom, headteacher and college unions, organisers are aiming to get at least one representative from every state and independent school in the country to attend the demonstration on 26 October. The unions have warned that further industrial action could be on the cards unless the Government backs down. They are also collecting staff petitions opposing the changes to keep up the pressure on ministers.

A statement from the lobby organisers said: "The fact that thousands of teachers and lecturers from around the country are giving up a day of their half-term holiday to come to London to lobby MPs shows just how high feelings are running."

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