Education unions join forces to lobby over pension cuts

Education unions join forces to lobby over pension cuts

A petition opposing pension cuts was delivered to the Department for Education (DfE) by all seven education unions this morning.

The ‘Decent Pensions’ petition had more than 154,000 signatures from lecturers and head teachers.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of University and College Union (UCU), said: “They’re angry, they’re hurt and they’re also frightened.”

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The proposed cuts to pensions go too far, especially when there is absolutely no evidence that pensions are an unsustainable burden on the taxpayer.

“We hope MPs will put pressure on the Treasury to enter into open and genuine negotiations about reforms. If the government refuses to do this, many union members feel they will have no choice but to take industrial action.”

Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for Schools said in response: “We are listening, we do understand, and that’s why we’re all negotiating openly and honestly.

“We want this full process to result in a high quality, with high benefits scheme that protects all the accrued rights which they (teachers) have built up over their careers, but is also sustainable in the long run.”

More than 1,000 teachers and lecturers from across the education sector lobbied Parliament today in a bid to stop cuts to their pensions.

Ian Cusack, Tyne Metropolitan College Branch Secretary (FE), was one of the lobbyists at Westminster, and said: “I don’t imagine that there will be any particular change, but I think it’s important to voice our disapproval to these changes that are being imposed on us.”

The proposed cuts to pensions go too far, especially when there is absolutely no evidence that pensions are an unsustainable burden on the taxpayer.”

Lecturers and college representatives arrived at Westminster with branded armbands, stickers and mini-placards. They slowly filed into Methodist Central Hall in the hope of meeting and discussing their concerns with MPs.

Gemma Charters, a lecturer at Liverpool Community College, said: “It’s an opportunity to get together with other teachers and express how disgusted we are with the proposed cuts to pensions.

“It’s an opportunity not just to be our own little isolated FE movement, but to be part of something bigger, part of teaching as a whole and talk about how dreadful we’re being treated.”

Under the new government proposals, contributions from lecturers in the FE sector will increase from 6.4 per cent to up to 9.8 per cent.

Ms Hunt said: “The reality is that the 3% hike which is being proposed by government is going nowhere near an individual’s pension scheme. It is going directly to the treasury to offset public sector debt, which has been incurred as a result of the financial crisis.

“People are being asked in the public sector and FE in particular, on top of an increased workload, and on top of very, very minimal pay rises which have not kept pace with inflation. “

All members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) will pay an increased rate which is tiered depending on their full time equivalent salary.

Lecturers in FE who are at the start of their career are often on temporary contracts or working at more than one institution.

Staff earning less than £15,000 each year are meant to be excluded from the rise in pension contributions, but Ms Hunt said that they will “get hammered” instead.

We deserve a decent pension and a decent time to retire.”

Ms Hunt said: “Say I’m working in three different colleges, and between those I earn £14,000. Because I’m on a particular grade or scale, they’re looking at what the full time equivalent salary for each of those three would be which would bring me above £15,000.”

“We’ve got a lot of people at the beginning of their careers, which under the current government proposals are going to be doubly penalised in a way. That is going to make it very difficult for us to have a long term sustainable pension scheme for our members, because people simply won’t be able to afford to be in it.”

Teachers and lecturers are set to lose on average £1,145 a year by April 2012.

The retirement age will also increase to 66 between December 2018 and 2020, with the possibility of a further rise to 68 in the future.

Ms Charters said: “What will upset me most is probably the retirement age being upped as much as the increased contributions. Everyone in FE, we don’t get paid as much as other teachers and it is a stressful, difficult job. Upping the retirement age and contributions it’s going to put even more stress and strain on people who really don’t deserve it. We deserve a decent pension and a decent time to retire.”

The final salary scheme would be replaced by a career average scheme, meaning that teachers and lecturers would receive up to 40% less in their retirement.

Pensions will be calculated by retail price index (RPI) rather than consumer price index (CPI), which would mean that a £10,000 a year pension has already lost £150 this year.

Mr Cusack said: “I’m particularly worried about the increase in percentage contributions. The thing that upsets me is that I paid for over 20 years in a particular level of contributions with the expectation of a particular level of benefits, and that’s been changed significantly.”

Unions are committed to industrial action if they don’t made sufficient progress in their negotiations with government.

Ms Charters said: “Yes, of course I’d be willing to go out on strike. I’ve already been out on strike twice over this issue. And if it means after that we have to escalate to ‘all out, stay out’ then that might be what we have to do. But we’re not looking that much further.”

Mr Cusack added: “I voted yes for strike auction and I’m a believer in democracy, so if the union calls this then I will take a day’s strike and lose a day’s pay.”

The lobby was not only well attended, but organised, effective and without trouble. Parliament has now been warned that if they proceed any further without negotiations, they risk extensive strike action from staff in FE.