Strikes mooted over changes to teacher pensions

2nd September 2011 at 01:00
But doubts emerge over legality of industrial action

Teachers' anger over proposed changes to their pensions is rising, with the EIS union threatening to take strike action. But doubts have been raised over the legality of such a move.

The legitimacy of embarking on a dispute over pensions in Scotland is in question because the instigator of the changes is the UK Government, which is not the body that employs Scottish teachers.

Some on the teacher unions' side are concerned that industrial action by Scottish teachers would breach the requirement that a dispute must be with the employer, which in this case is the teacher's local authority, or ultimately, the Scottish Government.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, told TESS: "As far as any action up here goes, our understanding is that there is not a trade dispute here. Because that is the position, industrial action is not really an option."

But others, including Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, suggest that because Scottish ministers and local authorities would still have some scope to vary a UK Government decision on pensions, actions by Scottish teachers could still be lawful.

Drew Morrice, EIS assistant secretary, insisted any action taken by the EIS would comply with the requirements of a legitimate trade dispute.

He acknowledged that the talks at UK level were still ongoing, but said they could not afford to wait until plans were "set in concrete"; the UK Government had "effectively made its mind up" to increase pension contributions and cut pension levels.

EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith said that for hard-pressed teachers, the prospect of paying more of their salary into a pension scheme with the promise of working longer and getting far less at the end just might be "the straw that breaks the camel's back".

Other unions, however, are keeping their powder dry and waiting until pensions talks between the UK Government and TUC have concluded - although all appear equally angry at the potential impact on their members.

Jim Docherty, depute general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "We will not consider industrial action until we have a written statement of the Government proposals."

Jane Peckham, NASUWT's organiser in Scotland, did not rule out a ballot of her members, but said she believed the UK Government was still looking at ways to improve its pensions proposals.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "We are in discussions with public-sector employers and unions about how to address the proposed pension changes in Scotland. No decision has been taken, so any proposals for industrial action are premature and only risk inconveniencing pupils and parents."

Retired members of the profession have already suffered some of the pain of Government pension reform, according to the EIS and SLS. The decision earlier this year to peg pensions to the consumer price index instead of the retail price index was costing a teacher on a pound;10,000 pension pound;150 per year, said Mr Morrice.

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk

Contributions hike

- An unpromoted teacher on pound;34,200 could see an increase in their contributions from pound;2,188.80 to pound;3,214.80 over the three-year period, (pound;1,026 increase per annum).

- A principal teacher on Point 6 (pound;45,024) could see contributions increase from pound;2,881.54 to pound;4,502.40, (pound;1,620.86 increase per annum).

- A headteacher on Point 27 (pound;80,037) could see contributions rise from pound;5,1227.37 to pound;8,964.14, (pound;3,841.77 increase per annum).

- A headteacher who finishes on Point 10 of the scale (10 years unpromoted, 5 as DHT Point 4 and 10 years HT) could receive a pension of pound;29,475 (career average revalued earnings) and pound;36,960 (final salary). He could pay pound;50,097 more in contributions and over a 25-year retirement receive pound;239,747 less pension.

Source: EIS initial calculations, dependent on accrual rates staying the same.

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