Union fury over second raid on teacher pensions

14th October 2011 at 01:00
Government proposals would hit middle-ranking teachers especially hard

To say that teachers are angry about changes to their pensions would be quite an understatement. Under the Government's plans announced in January, monthly contributions were set to increase by 50 per cent, prompting strike action throughout the sector. But it's about to get a whole lot worse.

TES has learnt that in the latest set of figures proposed by ministers, all teachers and heads earning more than pound;40,000 would see their contributions ratcheted up even higher than had been anticipated. Their contributions are set to go up by 64 per cent, meaning a teacher earning pound;40,000 would have to pay an additional pound;140 each month rather than previous estimates of pound;110.

Combined with the current freeze on teachers' pay, unions claim that increasing middle-ranking teachers' contributions to 10.5 per cent of their income - considerably higher than the 9.8 per cent maximum mooted earlier this year - could mean thousands struggle to make ends meet.

And the hike in contributions could even see some teachers paying more into their pensions than their employers, whose contributions would actually decrease. ATL's head of pay, conditions and pensions Martin Freedman described the latest proposals as a "lousy" settlement for the profession.

"If this is true, the concept of pensions as deferred pay for teachers goes out of the window," he said.

Mr Freedman calculates that, under the latest proposals, a teacher on pound;41,000 who retires at 60 would lose 45 per cent of their pension, in comparison to what they would earn under the current scheme.

"An average teacher in London could very well be earning that. Over-55s must be thinking, `Sod this, I'm going to stop paying.' Teachers leaving (as a result of the changes) must be a real threat to the future of the scheme," he said.

The Department for Education insists that the latest figures, circulated to unions last week, are not yet a formal offer and are still open to negotiation.

Even after the changes, which the DfE insists are necessary to protect the future of the scheme, a spokesman said that teachers will still have "one of the very best pensions available".

But with the projected cost ceilings for the teachers' pension scheme showing little room for manoeuvre on the Government's part, Mr Freedman is pessimistic. "As far as I can see, there's nothing else we can do," he added. "The Government is saying there are lots of things to negotiate, but I can't see where we can go from here."

The rationale behind the latest proposals is that the lowest-paid teachers should not be most severely affected. Those in the pound;15,000-25,999 bracket would see their contributions go up by 23 per cent, with those earning between pound;26,000 and pound;31,999 having to pay an extra 33 per cent.

But this relative generosity comes at a price for their better-paid colleagues. Heads earning over pound;112,000 would be hit hardest of all; their monthly contributions almost double from 6.4 per cent to 12.4 per cent. Not surprisingly, this is "a cause for concern" for heads' union ASCL, according to general secretary Brian Lightman.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, also warned that members of the teaching profession - already with "daggers drawn" - would not take kindly to seeing contributions go up even more than they had been warned in January. "They are being alienated and radicalised by the Government agenda," he said. "The Government could have managed the news better (by reducing the proposed increases) to allow the unions to say they have achieved something."

And the impact on cash-strapped teachers could be profound, according to NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates. The average salary figures used by the Government in its calculations include additional benefits many teachers do not actually receive, she warned. "We are in a two-year pay freeze. The issue from our point of view is that we don't think they need to raise the contributions at all."

As well as balloting its members on strike action, the NASUWT is proposing a rolling boycott of non-teaching duties, including admin and unnecessary lesson planning.

Cross-union protests are also on the cards. Following a mass lobby at Westminster on 26 October, a TUC-led day of action has been planned for 30 November. Education union leaders have already warned that mass strike action can only be averted if the Government agrees to compromise on its pension reforms. Instead, many teachers look likely to have to shell out even more than they had feared into their pension pots.

The dispute was already in danger of exploding into out-and-out industrial-relations warfare. The latest move by ministers will only serve to fan the flames.


Annual pensions contribution for a teacher earning pound;41,000:

Currently - pound;2,624

Under latest proposals - pound;4,305

pound;2.8bn to be saved from Government pension schemes by 2015.


Between 2018-2020 - 66

Between 2034-2036 - 67

Between 2044-2046 - 68.

Original headline: Ministers ignite union fury with a second raid on pensions

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