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Unions' victory in retirement battle

Ministers back down over plan to ease pensions burden. Jon Slater reports

Existing teachers will be able to retire at 60 on a full pension after the Government backed down this week over reforms designed to ease the burden on taxpayers.

Unions hailed the deal between ministers and public-sector unions as a major victory that would placate teachers and head off the threat of industrial action.

The National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT had threatened to strike unless the Government backed down over plans to force public-sector workers to delay retirement until 65 or accept a reduced pension. The changes were due to be phased in between 2007 and 2013.

But teachers who take up posts from 2007 will be expected to work until 65 to qualify for a full pension. Hardliners said this would create a two-tier workforce.

Ministers had argued reform was needed to control pension costs, which are being pushed up by increased life expectancy and a rise in the number of people reaching retirement age.

The deal covers civil servants, NHS staff and teachers. A joint statement by the Government and unions said: "Existing scheme members will have the right to suffer no detriment in terms of their normal pension age and will retain their existing pension provision."

Women on career breaks are also covered by the deal.

Proposals to extend teachers' working lives were part of a package of measures put forward by the Government. These included:

* changes to ill-health retirement rules to give more to people who cannot work but lessto those well enough to get a different job

* extension of dependents' benefits to unmarried partners

* greater flexibility to encourage people to stay on after the official retirement age.

The future of the Government's other proposed reforms and changes to new teachers' pensions will be worked out in separate negotiations due to be completed by June 2006.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, said he was optimistic about future negotiations, and that the unions would examine whether new teachers could make increased pension contributions to allow them to retire earlier on a full pension. He said: "This is a significant agreement which protects all current teachers from any imposed changes. Anyone who is currently a teacher, whether they are aged 22 or 55, will be able to retire at 60."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "This is a great deal for the current workforce. However, we remain concerned that new entrants will be paying over the odds for worse terms and conditions.

"A normal pension age of 65 would adversely affect both recruitment to and retention within the teaching profession."

School support staff and other local authority workers' pension arrangements are the subject of separate arrangements between unions and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.


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