Teaching union accepts controversial pension reforms


A teaching union has decided to accept the Government's controversial pension reforms, it was announced today.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which represents 160,000 teachers, said the move followed the results of a poll of members in which 91.6% of respondents voted in favour of the proposals.

ATL president Alice Robinson said: “ATL members are realists. They recognise how tough times are and that the Government is determined not to give any further ground.

“Although the Government's final offer does not give us everything we wanted, it is the best deal we could get in the current economic climate.

“And members do not want a significantly worse deal imposed on them if they rejected this one.”

ATL members took part in November's strike by up to two million public sector workers in protest at the pension changes.

Today's announcement means there will not be a repeat of such a huge strike, although leaders of other unions are discussing further walkouts because of continued opposition to the Government's reforms.

Mary Bousted, ATL's general secretary, said: "The pensions talks and negotiations were incredibly tough. The Government did not want to make concessions and we had a hard fight to get a fairer deal for teachers.

"It was only because ATL members, along with the members of six other education unions, were prepared to show their strength of feeling by going on strike and lobbying their MPs that we managed to force the Government to shift its position and start talks to get an improved offer.

"I am really proud of the courage ATL members showed when they took part in the union's first national strike in its 127-year history.

"We are still not happy about the pension contribution rates for 2012 to 2014, on which the Government refused to negotiate. But we will negotiate hard over the rates from 2015 onwards.

"We will also closely monitor the rate of members opting out of the Teachers' Pension Scheme, Northern Ireland and Scottish pension schemes, and will ensure the Government takes action if this threatens the schemes' health."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We welcome today's announcement. The deal on the table reflects teachers' and heads' arguments about what's most important to the profession, particularly around early retirement.

"It's a fair deal which strikes the right balance - guaranteeing teachers a good future pension but keeping long-term costs firmly under control."

Meanwhile, the construction workers' union Ucatt said it will take part in talks on finalising details of the new pensions arrangements, which it expects will conclude by the end of April.

The union, which has members in local government, outsourced council contractors, the NHS, prisons and the civil service, who took part in last November's strike, said further industrial action will be suspended until the talks end.

General secretary Steve Murphy said: "The anger and passion shown by Ucatt members and all public sector workers has resulted in the Government making concessions on their pension proposals. Ucatt now feels the time is right to enter into detailed negotiations to seek a long term settlement to this dispute."

Ucatt said concessions made by the Government included delays in when additional contributions will be introduced, protection for workers nearing retirement, more generous rates at which pensions will build up and commitments that if workers are outsourced they can remain in their public sector pension scheme.

Mr Murphy added: "Ucatt is entering into these negotiations in good faith. However, the Government needs to be aware that if talks should break down or what is on offer is unacceptable, then our members can take further industrial action."

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) announced later that it had accepted the outline "heads of agreement" after a survey of its members showed three quarters were in favour of signing up, despite "huge anger" over the reforms.

The association, which represents 16,000 secondary school and college leaders, said the agreement was not a final deal as a number of "significant" areas still had to be discussed.

General Secretary Brian Lightman said: "It was with considerable reservation that executive took the decision to accept this agreement. We recognise that we have achieved a significant improvement over the first offer put on the table and that it provides important concessions, but there is also huge anger from our members about how the whole process has been managed and the inconsiderate way the profession is being treated.

"Throughout this difficult time ASCL remained committed to negotiating with the Government, to ensure that young people's education was not disrupted and that lines of communication remained open, and we are pleased that this approach, however demanding, has been successful.

"We have warned ministers that school and college leaders are feeling demoralised and disempowered by the Government's assault from all directions on the education system, and the approach it takes during the remaining negotiations will be all-important if a final agreement is to be reached.

"One of the key areas ASCL will be pushing in the coming weeks is flexibility to retire early. We are convinced that the proposal to raise the retirement age to 68 will have a detrimental effect on teaching standards by requiring people to work to an age when many no longer have the stamina and drive to perform at a level required of teachers and school leaders in a demanding and tiring job.

"The ASCL executive believes that the Government is making a grave mistake in insisting on this and it is very important that flexibilities are introduced to the scheme enabling people to retire before 68."