UCU ballots on strike action in pensions row

18th February 2011 at 00:00
Union joins growing alliance fighting major costs hike and benefits reduction

The University and College Union (UCU) has agreed to ballot for strike action over plans to downgrade pension benefits for the second time in five years.

UCU's decision to ballot the 60,000 members in FE and post-92 universities who use the Teachers' Pension Scheme means they will join a growing alliance across education opposing plans which will increase costs and downgrade benefits.

With contributions set to rise by 50 per cent over three years, or pound;88 a month for a top-scale lecturer, education union the ATL has already announced its intention to move to a ballot over the changes. It represents 160,000 staff, mainly in schools with some college teachers and managers.

And as The TES reported last week, nearly two-thirds of members of heads' union the NAHT say they are prepared to take industrial action. Other teaching unions have not ruled out strikes.

As well as a rise in contributions, an average lecturer faces losing pound;36,000 over a typical 25-year pension period due to a downgraded inflation measure. The plans would mean the retirement age was raised to 65, and final salary benefits possibly replaced by a payment based on average career pay.

But UCU has objected that the scheme was already reorganised in 2006 to ensure it was sustainable.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Messing around with teachers' pensions is a dangerous game for employers to play. This is true across education in our schools, colleges and universities. It is particularly foolish at a time when college staff are already under attack from a pay rise of just 0.2 per cent and the prospect of a bill to join the ineffective IfL (Institute for Learning).

"The latest proposals from the Government would substantially increase contributions and change how the final pension is up-rated. However this is dressed up, it will inevitably mean staff paying more in to their pension and receiving less when they retire."

The union criticised the Department for Education for announcing plans to raise contributions ahead of both the regular revaluation of the pension scheme and the publication of Lord Hutton's final report on public sector pensions, due in March. Calling the changes "politically motivated", it said that the Government's pension liabilities were likely to fall in future, with much of the post-war baby boom already in retirement.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said discussions were continuing with unions on how to implement increases in public sector pension contributions "fairly and progressively".

She said: "This includes consideration of how the changes can be implemented in a way that protects the lower-paid."

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