As the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) waits to hear if members have voted to strike, the union’s leaders say there is still time for negotiations to end the pensions dispute.
Although official figures will not be available until 3pm tomorrow (November 9), when all ballot papers have been officially counted, the NAHT says the level of calls to its pension campaign hotline suggests that members have indeed called for strike action and that turnout will be strong.
If this does prove to be the case, it will be the first time in the union’s 114-year history that its members will have voted to strike. Members of the NAHT, who work in private as well as state-run establishments, regard the pension issue as a serious threat to the future recruitment and retention of talented staff and ultimately, therefore, to pupils’ education. It has been the sense of injustice and long term damage that has made the issue so inflammatory.
However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said last week’s announcement by the government that it is prepared to look again at some aspects of the public sector pension arrangements, has been seen by the union as a positive move which signals the start of real negotiations.
Mr Hobby said: “It is late in the day, but not too late for both sides to make real headway in this dispute. School leaders are not naturally militant and only consider taking action when their legitimate concerns appear ignored. However, there are many gaps in the government's proposals, which leave around half our members still fully exposed to a large pay cut. Even those heads who may be less affected personally by changes to the pension scheme at this stage in their careers feel they have a duty to make a stand for the next generation of their profession.
"We need to focus on the huge impact of a move away from final salary for school leaders (at a time of heavy retirements and unfilled vacancies); we need to think about what is a reasonable age for someone to remain in the classroom; and we need to address the impact of higher contributions on people starting out in their career.
“The teachers’ pension scheme is affordable and reasonable; a decent reward for a profession which raises standards every year and which works hard for less than their skills could earn in the private sector. Teachers have willingly done their bit to help the economy by accepting a pay freeze and, as tax payers, taking the same hits as everyone else. This has poured hundred of millions into front-line services. Yet the additional attack on their pensions is essentially nothing more than an attempt to pay for the mistakes of others.
“In the same week that the city described the £4.2 billion bonuses to be paid this year to finance industry workers as representing a drastic cut, the government’s attempts to compare public sector and private sector rewards ring hollow. We ask government to stop trying to fuel resentment by false comparisons between public and private workers.”
Page Published: 08/11/2011