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Unions dig in for long battle over pensions

Conferences will keep up pressure after Government averts strike with promise of fresh start for talks on retirement age.

Pensions remain a burning issue for the three main classroom teacher unions as the Government promises more talks over plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65.

Strike action by 1.5million public-sector workers was shelved this week as the Government caved into union demands for a review of its plans - avoiding the embarrassment of mass walkouts just weeks before an expected general election.

Thousands of schools had been expected to close last Wednesday because of the stoppage by support staff in protest at the changes that had been due to come into effect from April 1. Civil servants at the Department for Education and Skills had also been due to go on strike.

But action by Unison, which represents school support staff, Amicus, the GMB, the Transport and General Workers union and Ucatt was halted after John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, promised to head a committee reviewing pensions proposals.

The National Union of Teachers, whose annual conference begins in Gateshead today, also called off its ballot for industrial action over pensions.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary, said the NUT preferred to work through negotiation - a stance that is likely to get him a rough ride from far-Left factions at the conference.

But he warned the Government: "This offer must not be just a ploy to avert industrial action in the run-up to an election."

Chris Keates, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers general secretary, said the government U-turn vindicated the union decision not to ballot on action before talks were exhausted.

An amendment to the debate on pensions at the NASUWT conference in Brighton, however, calls on the national executive to hold a national ballot within a year.

Ms Keates said: "The national executive believed the threat of action to be premature. However, the matter will be debated at our conference and we will see how dialogue with the Government goes from here."

Pensions were top of delegates' agendas at the NUT and NASUWT conferences this Easter.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers receives more calls about them than about any other issue and was due to hold its pensions debate before the appearance of Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, on Wednesday.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said he was pleased the Government had listened to the unions. "Our aim throughout talks with the deputy prime minister has been to have these regulations revoked and to have real negotiations on how we can have a viable, sustainable pension scheme that will benefit all.

"We look forward to meaningful talks on the future of our members' pension schemes."

Changes to pension age would not affect new entrants to the Teachers'

Pension Scheme until April 2006, while existing members will be protected until 2013.



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