Tuesday, 31 January 2012

NUT Sixth Form College members vote to take strike action

NUT Press Release:

NUT members in sixth form colleges have voted to take strike action in opposition to Government funding cuts and cuts in teachers' pay and conditions.

The NUT balloted members in respect of two separate disputes, involving the Secretary of State for Education as the Minister responsible for setting colleges' funding, and the sixth form college employers who are increasing class sizes and working hours and freezing teachers' pay despite commitments made during the 2010 pay agreement.

Cuts to college budgets, coming on top of the axing of the Education Maintenance Allowance and an increase in tuition fees, will be seen as yet a further attack on the expectations of young people.

The NUT will be deciding on the initial date of strike action in the next few days.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said: “Sixth Form Colleges do an excellent job for the young people who attend them. Cuts to the funding for these institutions are having a devastating effect. Restoring their funding and reversing the increases in class sizes and cuts to teachers' pay are essential or standards are bound to suffer”.

The result of the NUT ballots was as follows:

Dispute with Sixth Form College Forum members (91 colleges)
Turnout 32.4%
Number voting ‘YES’ 950 (71.9% valid vote)
Number voting ‘NO’ 372 (28.1% valid vote)

Dispute with the Secretary of State (101 colleges)
Turnout 28.6%
Number voting ‘YES’ 987 (76.4% valid vote)
Number voting ‘NO’ 305 (23.6% valid vote)

NUT members support the Union’s position on pensions

NUT Press Release - 31 January 2012

93% of NUT members agree that the NUT is right not to sign up to the Government's proposals to cut teachers' pensions and agree that the NUT must continue to seek further improvements.

In a survey of over 11,000 NUT members, 90% agreed that teachers should not have to work until they are 68 for a full pension. Teachers over 50, who are best aware of the pressures of teaching for older teachers, agree even more strongly.

90% believed that teachers should not be made to pay an average 50% extra for their pensions, especially at a time of a pay freeze.

Almost 90% think that their pensions should be increased in line with RPI inflation and that indexation should not be cut to the lower CPI inflation rate.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“This survey shows that NUT members do not accept the Government's arguments for reducing teachers’ pensions. They do not accept this race to the bottom, cutting public sector pensions in the same way as private sector pensions have already been cut.

“The NUT will continue to campaign for teachers’ pensions and a Fair Pension for All."

Monday, 30 January 2012

Trade unionists challenge the main parties in the London Assembly elections

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition MEDIA RELEASE

New left-wing coalition to challenge for a seat on London Assembly

Candidates selected for the TUSC GLA list so far include (in alphabetical order):

April Ashley, UNISON National Executive Committee  
Alex Gordon, RMT President 
Steve Hedley, RMT London regional organiser 
Ian Leahair, FBU National Executive Committee
Martin Powell-Davies, NUT National Executive
Joe Simpson, POA assistant secretary
Jenny Sutton, UCU Chair, London Regional Committee (FE)
Nick Wrack, TUSC national committee member (former chair of Socialist Alliance and Respect)
There will also be candidates from the CWU postal union and the PCS public service workers union. 

(All standing in a personal capacity)

A new alliance, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), made up of trade union members and socialists, is to stand candidates in the Greater London Election on 3 May to challenge the all-party support for the government’s austerity cuts and pay freeze.

The coalition expects to win support from trade unionists and other voters who are angered by the recent statements of Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, in which they stated that they will not reverse the Government’s cuts and that they support its pay freeze.

A list of candidates will challenge in the ‘top up’ section of the election and if it wins at least 5% of the vote across the whole of London it could win at least one place on the 25-seat Greater London Assembly.

The coalition has already selected prominent London trade union leaders such as Alex Gordon, the national president of the RMT rail and maritime union and Steve Hedley the RMT’s London Transport regional organiser, Ian Leahair, the Fire Brigades Union executive committee member for the capital, Joe Simpson, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association and Martin Powell-Davies, who is one of the London representatives on the national committee of the NUT teachers union.

The Labour Party will be concerned that many public sector workers who participated in the 30 November pensions’ strike may be moved to vote for this coalition because of the failure of Labour leaders to support the walk-out.

Labour leaders will also be worried that rank and file union members of Labour affiliated unions could press for their funds to go to a party like TUSC instead of to Labour.

Steve Hedley, whose RMT union was expelled from the Labour Party in 2004 for backing the Scottish Socialist Party, said, “We need candidates who support the ordinary man and woman. TUSC is the only organisation that opposes all cuts, defends pensions and benefits for all working people. Labour just wants a compliant, silent union movement to hand over its money. TUSC will be a voice for all workers and will support trade unions in struggle.”

TUSC national committee member Nick Wrack, who is also a candidate, said, “London is a city of stark contrasts. There is a huge amount of poverty amidst the plenty. Corporate bosses and bankers still get their million pound pay and pension packages while one in six London workers is paid less than the Mayor’s £8.30 per hour living wage. Millions are suffering from the cuts to services and benefits yet last year the city paid out over £4 billion in bonuses. It’s extremely hard even for those on better wages to make ends meet. We believe that there is an opportunity for a party that will speak up for working-class London to make a real break-through and that would begin to change the nature of political debate in Britain today.”

TUSC believes it can get a candidate elected if it wins at least 150,000 votes across London.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Pensions Campaign Update - Report from the NUT Executive

The NUT Executive met again on January 26 and agreed the following recommendations for the ongoing pensions campaign:

1. Christine Blower and Kevin Courtney will continue to work to convene the joint meeting of unions that have not signed up to heads of agreement.
We are not alone! Far from it. Christine and Kevin gave an encouraging report from a meeting convened by the NUT that had brought together a sizeable number of different union leaders to discuss a joint campaign.
The meeting shows that, after the setback of some other unions signing the totally inadequate ‘Heads of Agreement’ deal, a significant group of unions is still standing firm. Unions will meet again next week to look at joint plans in more detail.

2. Christine and Kevin will press the case at the meeting with the other unions for a joint further day of action in March, before the contributions increase, as part of an on-going campaign involving further action, and other activities.
Motions from schools and Associations, including many from London, had been sent in to the Union in support of further action - action that must be taken if we are going to persuade this Government to back-off from making teachers work to 68 and pay 50% more in pensions contributions. The Executive agrees - but, while understanding the urgency in providing a clear plan of action - also recognises that we have to try and reach agreement with other unions before any firm date is ‘named’ as the next suggested strike day.
March 1 had been proposed by the UCU, but I understand that other unions felt that a slightly later date was needed. The NUT will be firmly calling on unions to agree on a definite strike day in March - but not as a one-off action. We also want to discuss the further joint action that will need to follow. 

3. A special National Executive will be called for February 9th to consider the results of that joint union meeting.
The Executive will be recalled to make sure that there is no unnecessary delay in preparing for further action.
Hopefully, the joint discussions will have arrived at firm conclusions to put to other Union Executives,as well as ours, so we can follow a common strategy.

4. Any outcome from Feb 9th Executive to go forward with action should be accompanied by home mailings, emails, reps news etc. arguing the case for the action including materials relating to the Government/Ofsted assault on teachers since January and the attacks in the Autumn statement.
Some members have already indicated their support for further action but we want to make sure that every NUT member understands why we cannot accept the ‘Heads of Agreement’ and why we need their support for the proposed plan of action
If we retreat on pensions, then we will give the Government confidence to press ahead with all their other attacks - a continued pay freeze, endless observations, longer hours … plus the threat of fast-track sackings if they decide you don’t meet their imposed standards.
It won’t just be ‘pay more, retire older and get less’, it will be ‘pay more and get a LOT less’, when teachers are forced by the stress and relentless pressure to retire long before they reach their full pensions age.
Alongside the campaign against ‘pensions robbery’, Executive members also discussed how best to fight Gove’s ‘bullies charter’ and its threat to unfairly force teachers through accelerated capability procedures. We hope we can get unions to agree an alternative policy that we can then propose to Local Authorities and Governors - backed up with action if necessary.

5. All affected members will be consulted on and urged to support any proposed action, once it is clear which other unions intend to be involved.
The Executive knows that many of the most active union members understand the issues, know what’s at stake, and are ready for further strike action. However, particularly now some unions have stepped back from the struggle, at least for now, the Executive believes we need to make absolutely sure that the next NUT action has widespread backing across the whole Union. That’s why we agreed to carry out some kind of consultative survey of members to indicate their endorsement of the union’s proposed action.
The exact details of the survey were left for further discussion, but it certainly doesn’t need to be another full ballot sent to home addresses. Our legal ballot for discontinuous action remains in force. This would be solely an internal Union survey to gauge - and to build - support for our plan of strike action.
As I said when I spoke in the debate, of course this kind of survey is not without risk. However, proceeding without this consultation presents an even greater risk - that we might not have correctly prepared the support for action across the whole Union.
So everyone who supports action - from the Executive right down to members in schools - would need to use this survey to get the message out to their colleagues, to union meetings, and to neighbouring schools, that we all need to continue, and extend, the fight to stop this pensions robbery.

6. The Divisional Secretaries meeting on Feb 2nd will be consulted as to readiness for action and encouraged to continue building the campaign, including through school meetings, street stalls and lobbies of MPs. A draft plan of action will be devised for consultation with the meeting. This would include one day of national action in March and a plan of what a possible strategy of further action could look like.
NUT Local Division Secretaries - who are the key officers and local organisers in the union - are being called together for a special meeting next week.
They can then have their say about what our campaign strategy and timetable should be, what the mood for action is in their area, and discuss how we go out to build action. If you have an opinion, make sure to tell your NUT Secretary before they come to next week’s meeting!

7. The union seeks to make common publicity with other teacher unions in particular around age of retirement and increased contributions and by placing a petition on the Government web-site.
As well as using the key weapon of strike action, we need to get our message out to the public about the damage these proposals will cause to both teachers and education - and right across our public services.
Some unions are keen on using a petition as a way to gather publicity - and we are obviously happy to do so.

8. The NUT will press the case for TUC support for action by unions that have not ‘signed up’ at the Public Sector Liaison Group on Feb 6th – and keep working to get other unions back to the campaign.
UNISON, GMB and ATL may have signed-up for now - but we hope our campaign - and the real facts about the ‘Agreement’ - will persuade their members to call for their unions to rejoin the fight for a better deal.
At a recent regional TUC meeting, UNISON officials said they would still be giving support to unions like the NUT who were continuing with action. We are calling for that to be the clear official position of the national TUC.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

'Coalition of the willing' gathering strength

In the immediate aftermath of the TUC-led retreat over pensions, the ‘coalition of the willing’, those unions still determined to fight on, have needed time to regroup. But now that coalition is gathering strength.

Over Christmas, the danger of isolation and concerns that members might no longer be prepared to take action understandably weighed heavily on union leaders.
The PCS Left Unity Conference on January 7 helped to swiftly galvanise union activists and a call was made for union leaders to meet together to agree a coordinated action plan. The NUT is now convening exactly such a meeting with a number of other unions already pledged to attend.

The decision by UNITE to reject the Heads of Agreement has helped bolster confidence, as has the action taken by private-sector Unilever workers in defence of their pension schemes. It now seems likely that the FBU may also need to ballot for strike action with the Government apparently insistent on an unworkable scheme where firefighters work until they are 60 and pay at least 13.2% of their salary in pension contributions (see link below) !

Above all, it is the growing confirmation of support for action in the workplace that is helping to reassure union leaderships that they can securely call further strikes. NUT members have been meeting to agree motions pledging support for action as well as responding to a national email survey. Just like the BMA’s separate survey of doctors, it seems likely that the results will confirm clear opposition to the deal.

Of course, nothing can be taken for granted. In the build-up to further strikes, unions need to campaign hard in every workplace and community to build the strongest support for action. 

No worker can lightly lose pay but most will be willing to do so if unions show they are serious about continuing the campaign. After all, if we don't carry on the fight, we're guaranteed to be losing pay every single month in higher pension contributions.

Unions now need to agree a clear plan of co-ordinated action. At least a further day of national strike needs to be called before April, when the first-phase of increased pension contributions is to be imposed. Unions also need to make clear to that this isn’t just a ‘last hurrah’ but part of an ongoing campaign to force the Government to retreat further.

The UCU Executive, at its meeting on January 20, became the latest union to formally reject the Heads of Agreement. It also proposed that a programme of coordinated rolling strike action should begin in February, with Thursday March 1 proposed as a day for national strike action.

This is a useful starting-point for discussion between unions although the exact details may need to change - particularly as Welsh teachers have pointed out that clashing with long-prepared events for St. David's Day would not be popular.

There is certainly a pressing need for the joint-union discussions to arrive at a firm date for the next co-ordinated action. NUT Divisional Secretaries from branches across England and Wales are being called to an emergency national meeting on Feb 2 to discuss the campaign. Hopefully, when the PCS Executive meets again on Feb 9 and the UCU Executive on Feb 10, we will all be in a position to announce a common plan of action.

While it will be important to negotiate over the dates so as to bring the strongest possible alliance together, it would be a mistake to postpone a decision in order to try and bring unions like UNISON and GMB on board. A strong campaign is being waged inside Health and Local Government unions in opposition to the 'Heads of Agreement' but, even if it eventually succeeds, it will be several months before these unions could be brought back into action.

Joint-union staff meetings and local Trades Councils should organise debates so that the real facts about the Heads of Agreement can be explained - so that everyone understands that it means 'pay more, get less and retire older'.

However, a significant joint-union strike in March, even if on a smaller scale than November, will be the best way to support those arguing to reverse the position of unions who have signed-up to the shabby 'deal'. 

Above all, that united action will send a clear signal to the Government that they still face strong and determined opposition to their pensions robbery.

For more information, follow these links:

Updated NUT Pensions Loss Calculator: http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12872

UCU analysis of the 'Heads of Agreement' for teachers and lecturers: http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/l/c/ucu_fareporttps_10jan12.pdf

BMA doctors reject pensions robbery: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16618194

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Teachers report to Executive; No Deal, Let's Take Action

As well as the ongoing survey of NUT members, reports are coming in from schools and Local Associations where NUT members are meeting to discuss the pensions campaign. Most are showing strong support for further action.

I attended a very well attended meeting of the NUT group (with 39 present) at the City and Islington Sixth Form College this lunchtime. The meeeting unanimously passsed the resolution below. In particular, the reps want to propose to the Executive that, as well as calling further action, we should call a London wide rally to build for that action. It's certainly a suggestion that I will bring to the Executive next week - an idea which could be repeated in every Region.

“This union meeting congratulates the NUT executive for the pensions campaign and the huge success of the strikes on 20th June and 30th November.

We note that the Heads of Agreement “offer” made by the government to teaching unions on December 19th still means that we would have to pay more, work longer and get a smaller pension. We note that the government is still intent on:
· increasing our pension contributions by 50%;
· raising the retirement age for teachers to 68;
· introducing a pension based on a career average rather than final salary;
· using CPI, rather than RPI, as the index for annual increases in our pensions.

These are the measures against which we took strike action on June 30th and November 30th and for these reasons we believe the NUT was right not to sign up to the Heads of Agreement.

We note that the NASUWT and UCU have also refused to sign up to the Heads of Agreement.

We note that whatever concessions the government has made have only come as a result of our campaign and strike action, but go nowhere near enough to meet our concerns.

However the government has now unilaterally announced that it will be increasing contributions which means that members will experience a pay cut in April.

We call upon the NUT National Executive to draw up plans for further strike action and to discuss these with other unions who have also refused to sign the Heads of Agreement. We therefore agree to indicate our support for:

i) the decision of the NUT to reject the Heads of Agreement document;
ii) A campaign of meetings in associations and regions to explain to reps and members the results of the negotiations and the NUT’s plans for further action. 

iii) the NEC on 26th January to name the day for a further strike day this term and draw up plans to escalate action to achieve our pension objectives.

ATL statement misleads teachers about their pensions 'agreement'

In June, and again in November, the ATL stepped forward and took action on pensions – raising their standing across the trade union movement. So it’s a real disappointment to see them now put out a statement justifying their acceptance of the Government’s ‘Heads of Agreement’ which, in my opinion, deliberately misleads its members about what the ‘deal’ really means for teachers.

The ATL presentation http://www.atl.org.uk/pensions/pensions-consultation/new-tps-statement.asp fails to explain that the ‘Heads of Agreement’ made absolutely clear that the overall 'cost-ceiling' was not going to increase - so that there was no more money on offer. Therefore, in order to get the better accrual rate of 1/57, proclaimed as a victory by the ATL, something else had to be cut - and that's exactly what happened.

Career-averages have to be linked to some kind of indexation to bring past salaries in line with today’s prices - and that's where the ATL signed-up to a worsening of the scheme.

In November, the Government were proposing the link was with average earnings. Now they have cut that to CPI + 1.6%. In other words, the slightly improved accrual rate of 1/57 (i.e a bigger amount set aside each year to improve pension payouts) was paid for by a worse indexation rate (reducing the indexation of past earnings so cutting pension payouts).

The ATL statement deceptively states that the benefits of the ‘deal’ include “An accrual rate of 1/57ths, rather than the current 1/80ths for who joined the TPS before 2007 and 1/60ths for those who joined after 2007”. But their pensions experts must know that you can't simply compare accrual rates in a final-salary scheme to a career-average CARE scheme.

Because of the way that career-average schemes work, CARE schemes will mean a much smaller pension unless the new ‘accrual rate’ is considerably better than the 1/60 rate that applies in the existing final-salary scheme for new entrants (for example, the Nuvos career-average scheme negotiated in 2006 for the civil service has a much better rate of 1/43).

The 1/57 accrual rate on a career-average scheme with this rate of indexation means nearly all teachers will get LESS PENSION. We will also all PAY MORE and, for most teachers, RETIRE OLDER too. So how can the ATL present this as acceptable?

Regrettably, their case studies showing the ‘benefits’ of the scheme they have signed-up to illustrate the pensions that a teacher would get at 65. This is mimicking the distortions that the Government came out with in November. As we explained then, of course working on past 60 improves the payout of even a poorer pensions scheme – because you’ve had to put five more years of contributions into it!

Most teachers will be forced to retire long before they reach their State Pension Age – particularly if Gove gets away with piling even greater pressures on teachers through his latest threats of fast-track sackings and longer working days. That will be at the cost of a hefty cut to their pension through an actuarial reduction. No doubt the Treasury has already worked out how much more it will save as a result.

The NUT Pensions calculator http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12872 shows the real losses under the ‘Heads of Agreement’ Scheme. For me, it’s a £33 pay cut in April, rising to a £108 monthly pay cut in April 2014. Even with some transitional protection, I’d lose £400 a year in pension if I retire at 60 and £87,000 in total from my pension over my retirement. For young teachers, it will be a lot, lot worse.

The NUT is honestly presenting the facts to its members. Yes, we know that our action won some concessions - with the Government conceding in early November that the oldest teachers would still be able to retire at their existing pension age. But, this is nowhere near enough.

The ATL agreed it was an inadequate concession when they took action with us on November 30. In fact, as Osborne then announced that he was accelerating the raising of the State Pension Age to 67 and 68, things have got worse, not better.

So the ATL should stop trying to spin the figures and admit that they have signed-up to a deal that means teachers will PAY MORE, GET LESS, and RETIRE OLDER.

Can I afford to strike ? Can I afford not to ?

You’ll struggle to find a teacher that agrees with the Government’s blatant pensions robbery. Who wants to pay in more to get less out - and be forced to struggle on to 68 to get our full pension (if we don’t resign or get sacked first)?

There’s only one real question that is asked - can we afford to lose more pay by continuing action? Of course your Union understands that few of us can easily afford to lose pay, but if we let these plans go through, teachers will be guaranteed to lose pay every single month in extra pensions contributions.

For example, if we don’t stop this robbery, a Lewisham UPS1 teacher will lose £34 every month from their salary from April - rising to a £103 pay cut every month from 2014

As anyone who knows trade union history will understand, the pressure on strikers’ incomes is always the main weapon that employers have in any prolonged dispute. But that’s why we’ll need to plan our outgoings to allow for deductions and collect to support those under the greatest financial pressures.

We have a clear choice - ceasing our action which guarantees a salary cut, increased pension ages and giving the Government confidence to press ahead with all their other bullying attacks – or carrying on with action - which could still mean over 1 million on strike.

We can’t guarantee victory, but if we don’t fight on, we know the price we will pay.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Lewisham NUT votes for further strike action

30 members at tonight's Lewisham NUT General meeting voted unanimously to support the Union's opposition to the Heads of Agreement and for further strike action on pensions.

I used case studies from the newly revised NUT pensions calculator - now updated to show the affect of the Heads of Agreement (http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12872) to explain that the 'deal' was no better than what we had all taken united action against in November. It still meant pay more, get less and, for all but the oldest teachers, retire older. 

After a full and considered discussion, the meeting voted for the motion (posted in the previous blog post) calling on the National Executive to draw up plans for further strike action. Reps also agreed to take that motion back to their schools and to try and get it discussed - and hopefully agreed - in as many schools as possible. 

Reps also agreed to urge members to complete the latest NUT survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BJ9T3R7 asking members' views on the Union's opposition to the Government's shoddy 'deal'.

There was anger expressed at UNISON in particular, and regret that the ATL and NAHT had signed as well. However, there was a determination that we had to fight on and that we could still build significant action by bringing the remaining unions together.

There was a good discussion about what and when that action should be, with the strengths and weaknesses of a work-to-rule, half-day and and rolling action being discussed. However, the general conclusion drawn by most there was that we needed a 'calendar of action' of when we would be likely to take national action in February and March. 

Reps were aware of the financial pressures on staff but felt that we had to show we had a serious program of action if members were to see that the sacrifice was worth taking - and that with a 'calendar' teachers could more easily prepare ahead for the salary losses they would face through strike action.

It was a determined meeting - and confirmed to me that the fight on pensions is far from over.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Motion for school NUT groups - We support action on pensions

Alex Kenny and I - who have both been elected unopposed for the 2012-14 NUT Executive seats for Inner London - may have voted different ways on an amendment that I seconded at Thursday's NUT Executive, but I think we are both very clear that we wish to see further co-ordinated strike action to defend pensions - and that we need NUT members to show their support for such action.

Alex has already circulated a motion for school NUT groups to discuss - expressing support for action. This is also pasted below.

Please do meet in school groups and association meetings to pass this motion and send it to me, Alex and the National Union as soon as possible and certainly before the NUT National Executive next meets on January 26th.

Motion for school NUT groups to discuss

This union meeting notes that the Heads of Agreement “offer” made by the government to teaching unions on December 19th still means that we would have to pay more, work longer and get a smaller pensions.

We note that the government is still intent on:
i) increasing our pension contributions by 50%;
ii) raising the retirement age for teachers to 68;
iii) introducing a pension based on a career average rather than final salary;
iv) using CPI, rather than RPI, as the index for annual increases in our pensions.

These are the measures against which we took strike action on June 30th and November 30th and for these reasons we believe the NUT was right not to sign up to the Heads of Agreement.

We note that the NASUWT and UCU have also refused to sign up to the Heads of Agreement.

We note that whatever concessions the government has made have only come as a result of our campaign and strike action, but go nowhere near enough to meet our concerns.

We believe that the campaign to defend our pensions must continue and that this should involve further strike action.

We call upon the NUT National Executive to draw up plans for further strike action and to discuss these with other unions who have also refused to sign the Heads of Agreement.

We therefore agree to indicate our support for:

i) the decision of the NUT to reject the Heads of Agreement document;

ii) further strike action in defence of our pensions.

NO DEAL - Report from the NUT Executive

NUT seeks urgent talks with other unions to press for further strikes

Dispute at critical stage: let the Executive know you support action

The NUT Executive met for an emergency meeting on January 12 to debate how we respond to the Government’s attempts to bully unions into accepting their ‘Heads of Agreement’ pensions proposals.

We met straight after a TUC meeting of all the main public sector unions where there were reportedly some sharp exchanges between unions still standing firm - like PCS and NUT – and those that had signed a deal that can only mean that their members pay more, retire older and get less.

The discussion needs to be sharp – because the decision of unions like Unison and GMB to sign up to the ‘Heads of Agreement’ doesn’t only threaten support staff and other members of the Local Government Pension Scheme – it threatens the pensions of every one of the two million workers that took such tremendous united action on November 30.

Their retreat means our pensions dispute is now at a critical stage – but the fight is far from finished. Those unions that were bullied into signing – like the ATL - still have to sell their mistaken decision to their members. In schools, the NUT and NASUWT haven’t signed up to the deal, nor have the UCAC, EIS and INTO unions in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. UNITE has strengthened its position since the New Year , rejecting the deal in Health and Local Government. Their private-sector Unliever members will also be taking strike action to defend their pensions in January. Firefighters in the FBU may also join us in action.

Once the facts are known, how can any union accept the ‘heads of agreement’ proposed by the Government? The NUT Executive confirmed unanimously that we cannot agree to a deal that means:
  • Normal pension age in the scheme will rise to 68 and even higher.
  • Teachers who leave before that age – driven out by excessive workload and the threatened ‘bullies charter’ - will face substantial reductions in their pension entitlements
  • Contributions will increase by 50%
  • The change to CPI will remove a further 15% of scheme value
  • The introduction of career averaging will lead to further cuts in pension value for a big majority of teachers.
Our action had already forced the Government to concede that at least some older teachers can still retire at 60 - although they’ll still be paying in more and getting less in retirement. But all teachers would be hit hard, especially the youngest. If we’re going to reject this unacceptable deal, then we have to carry on our campaign of action to force much more out of this Government.

The Executive agreed that we seek urgent talks with other unions that have not signed up to the heads of agreement to press the case for further action. Mark Serwotka had already told the TUC that morning that the PCS were planning to convene exactly such a joint meeting in the next few days. 

The next two weeks will be critical in constructing a clear action plan. Following those joint talks, the NUT Executive will meet again on January 26 to decide if – and when - we are going to set definite dates for further strike action. 

It’s not a straightforward decision - and it was clear in the debate that doubts, about how many unions will join us and about the resolve of NUT members in schools, were weighing heavily on some Executive members. That’s why in the surveys, school and Association meetings over the next fortnight, it’s vital that NUT members send in motions, letters and emails saying that you support the call for further strike action in defence of our pensions.

In seconding an amendment seeking to strengthen the main motion, I argued that we had to be confident that, once the facts about the deal were spelt out, teachers would understand why we had to reject the deal – and, if so, that we had to continue, and escalate, our action. 

The amendment suggested that NUT took a clear proposal to the joint union action talks to consider a one-day strike before the end of February - and further co-ordinated action in March – before the imposed pension contributions start to further cut teachers’ pay in April. 

I believe that amendment would have helped answer any doubts amongst our members about the Executive’s determination to defend pensions – and sent a firmer message to the Government, and to other unions, that the NUT was ready for a serious fight. 

The amendment was lost by 26 votes to 13 but, significantly, was supported by  Executive members who reported that they were responding to calls from members in their area for the NUT to quickly call further action, including two who wouldn't normally vote with the Executive 'Left'.

Most on the Executive did not want to support a definite timetable at this stage – but we all agreed that the debate will continue on January 26. It’s now vital that NUT members continue to pass on their support for action to give their Executive members the confidence to call the action that must now be taken if we are to defend pensions.

NUT Executive news in brief:
Gove’s ‘Bullies Charter’ - These plans are about bullying and intimidating teachers so that we are too frightened to stand up for ourselves - and for education. The NUT Executive confirmed our opposition to Gove’s plans and to seek to organise action to stop them.
Stop Forced Academies - the campaign to stop one of Gove’s other attacks - bullying schools into becoming Academies - is being fought hard in  Haringey.  Join the demonstration on Saturday 28 January, 12pm at Downhills Primary School, N15.
Sixth Form Colleges ballot - strike ballots to oppose funding cuts and worsening pay and conditions in the sector will be going out to all 6FC members. Votes must be returned by 30 January.

London Assembly Elections: A personal appeal to support trade union candidates
We’re fighting a vicious Government trying to drive through cuts. Yet, with a few honourable exceptions, most opposition politicians aren’t prepared to speak up for trade unionists. That’s why the RMT, FBU and others are planning to stand candidates in the ‘list’ for the Assembly. I have been invited to stand as a prominent NUT member. 

To give support, visit: http://www.tusc.org.uk/pdfs/GLAappealpetition

United action to stop the bullies

It's no surprise that, just when the Government feels they might be able to win a victory on pensions, they go on a further attack over their 'bullies charter'.

These plans have been in the offing for some months - see http://electmartin1.blogspot.com/2011/10/action-neeeded-to-stop-bullies-charter.html 

But these threats are nothing to do with improving education - no, further teacher stress, even greater workload and further demoralisation will only make things worse. These plans are about bullying and intimidating teachers so that we are too frightened to stand up for ourselves - and for education.

Their pensions attacks mean that many teachers will be having to work on until 68 or even older, trying to keep up with the unrelenting pressure in our underfunded and overmonitored schools. Now Gove's making clear that, if you can't take the pace, you'll be sacked long before you reach your pension age.

We have to fight these plans - but we also have to make sure that we show Gove that we're not yet beaten on pensions either. The NUT Executive yesterday agreed that we cannot accept the 'Heads of Agreement' and that we are urgently talking with other unions about plans for further strike action - full report to follow.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Now UNITE rejects Local Government proposals too!


The government’s latest proposals to cut local government pensions were rejected by Unite, Britain's biggest union, today (Monday, 9 January).

The Unite local authority national industrial sector committee (LANISC), which met today, rejected the ‘principles document’ as a basis for a satisfactory outcome. Last week (5 January) Unite's health sector national industrial sector committee (HSNISC) also rejected the government’s latest proposals on the NHS pension scheme.

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey said:

"Unite's local authority representatives have lost trust after Eric Pickles let the government's real agenda out of the bag.

"The security of our members in retirement is just too important to leave any space for doubt or mistrust, so the union's senior representatives in local government have rejected the government's proposals.

"Our senior representatives believe they have no choice but to reject the 'principles document' after Eric Pickles claimed the unions had made commitments which have not been fully discussed. There now needs to be genuine discussions without arbitary deadlines. Our members need clarity before we can move forward."

In a letter on 20 December, communities secretary, Eric Pickles claimed commitments including linking the local government retirement age to the state pension age, a career average pension scheme and introducing an employer cost ceiling of 10.9 per cent, had been agreed when, in fact, discussions on these important issues were still due to take place. The letter has caused a crisis of confidence and trust. Unite's local authority workers will now consider their next steps.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Lewisham Labour Council supporting Aske's Free School?

A leaflet distributed around Telegraph Hill today confirms the news, as reported in this blog as news broke on Friday, that Haberdashers' Aske's is planning to open a new two-form entry primary Free School in September 2013.

The Federation is clearly pursuing its motto of 'serve and obey' to follow Government policy in favour of using privatised unaccountable Free Schools as a weapon to divide and dismantle Local Authority education. (See http://electmartin1.blogspot.com/2011/09/free-schools-freedom-to-privatise.html for an explanation of what Free Schools really mean.)

Disgracefully, the leaflet claims that the plans have "the support of the Lewisham Local Authority". Is this true? Local councillors (update: but see comment from Paul Bell below), Mayor Bullock and Joan Ruddock MP have some urgent explaining to do - surely they aren't happy to see local education privatised?

Yes, there is a real shortage of primary places - unions have been warning councillors of that for years (but they still decided to close Lewisham Bridge School of course ...) - but turning to Free Schools as an answer is a dangerous acceptance of privatisation - and a slap in the face to staff and governors working so hard at other local schools. 

What will this mean in reality? Aske's will get what they've always wanted - a primary school with a catchment area taking in the leafiest parts of Telegraph Hill. The sibling-preferential admissions will help ensure that they can keep their skewed intake at both primary and secondary-ages. But other local primary schools will suffer as a scramble for places and a widening divide emerges in local education. Education as a whole and, in particular, working-class families and students, will be the losers.

Lewisham NUT has consistently warned that allowing Haberdasher's Aske's to expand its Academy empire could undermine local comprehensive education. But now it is taking the next step of setting up Free Schools as well. If this plan succeeds, it could open the door to even more.

Lewisham NUT calls on everyone who wants to defend education and equalities in the borough to get in touch so we can work together to oppose this dangerous proposal.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Reject the deal - we CAN defeat this robbery

Today, at the Conference hosted by PCS Left Unity in Euston, trade unionists determined to fight the pensions robbery are meeting to restate our determination to defeat these attacks and organise to win.

Packed full and determined to fight pensions robbery
How can we accept a 'deal' that still means we pay more, get less and retire older?

For most of us, it certainly means 'retire older'. I've been teaching for 25 years but, under the terms of the Government's proposed ‘deal’, like many colleagues, I would only be a little over halfway through my teaching career!

The deal - an accrual rate of 1/57 in a career-average scheme - would certainly mean 'get less'. Compare that accrual rate to the much-better 1/43 rate in the civil service Nuvos scheme – it means pensions robbery. 

The Education 'Heads of Agreement' doesn't just mean we pay more - for me over £120 a month more by 2014 - but that the employers pay less. Their contributions would go down to 12.1%! 

No wonder Danny Alexander bragged in Parliament that he’d got the deal he wanted and that it made services “substantially more affordable to private providers” - those private profiteers ready to take on even more of our public services to run for their profits, not people's interests.

So we have to reject the deal – and if we are rejecting it, then have to fight.

Today's conference will call on the TUC to call a further day of action - but, if they don't, then the cross-union committee also being proposed from today's meeting must meet and propose plans for co-ordinated action across those many unions that are prepared to fight.

We CAN defeat this Government’s pensions robbery - and we MUST. 

Friday, 6 January 2012

Teaching Unions Refuse Pensions Deal

As the BBC News reported tonight, both the NUT and NASUWT have confirmed that we are refusing to sign-up to the Pensions 'Heads of Agreement'.

Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the NUT told the BBC that "We have a meeting of our executive committee next week, which will look at how to take the campaign forward, including a consideration of industrial action."

Report on: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16442607

The Officers' Report going to next week's NUT Executive recommends:

 “a) that the Union cannot agree to the “heads of agreement” document because there has been no movement on any of the key areas the union has identified:
- Normal pension age in the scheme will rise to 68 and even higher. (Teachers who leave before that age will face substantial reductions in their pension entitlements)

- Contributions will increase by 50%
- The change to CPI will remove a further 15% of scheme value
- The introduction of career averaging will lead to further cuts in pension value for a big majority of teachers.
- There has been no movement on the cost ceiling.
- It contains no reassurances that teachers in Independent schools will continue to have access to the pension scheme.

“b) that the Union seek a meeting with Michael Gove and other willing unions in particular to press on the contributions and the age of retirement in particular.

“c) that the Union appeal against the high court ruling on CPI/RPI

“d) that the Union immediately begin to enact the other points from the decisions of the December executive – polling members via email on their view of the Government offer – following materials from the Union indicating that the Union’s position is that it does not go anywhere near far enough.

“e) that the Union urgently write to school reps informing them of the details of the offer – and the other points in these recommendations and urging them to call school meetings to discuss it and ask members to respond to the NUT on-line survey.

“f) that the Union start preparations for a ballot for non-strike sanctions and that this be on a wider basis than pensions alone – including workload and the threats to worsen the performance management arrangements.

“g) that the Union propose to other unions a joint program of publicity and action to continue to campaign for improvements in the pension including by putting forward a petition on the Government website calling for teachers and other public sector workers not to be expected to work to 68 years.

“h) that the Union continue to work with the NPC, public sector and private sector unions and through both the PSLG and TUCG to develop the campaign around fair pensions for all.

“i) that the Union continue to meet with other unions that have not signed up to the heads of agreement to discuss the possibilities of joint campaigning and possible further strike and non-strike action.

“j) that a divisional secretaries meeting be held on 2nd February to discuss the developments in the pensions campaign and the campaign around performance management and other workload issues

Now Aske's are planning to open free school

It was no surprise that Michael Gove chose Haberdasher's Aske's in Lewisham to give his speech on Wednesday falsely proclaiming the advantages of Academies - while boring his auidence literally to sleep: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qQL5L31-1E

As Christine Blower said in response:
“The Secretary of State's assertion that the opponents of the Government's forced academy programme are "happy with failure" is an insult to all the hard-working and dedicated teachers, school leaders, support staff and governors in our schools"

But his visit has been followed by news today that Aske's are - amongst other expansion plans - apparently planning to expand their empire further by opening a two-form entry primary 'free school' in 2013. This will undermine exactly those hard-working local schools as Aske's continue to use their separate arrangements to distort local admissions and undermine comprehensive education.

Lewisham NUT will be woking with local parents and schools to oppose this threat.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Pensions 'offer' rejected by Unite


The government’s latest proposals on NHS pension ‘reform’ - the ‘Heads of Agreement’ document - were unanimously rejected by Unite, the largest union in the country, today.

Unite’s health sector national industrial committee (HSNIC) rejected the ‘Heads of Agreement’ as a basis for a satisfactory outcome.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: ”Our NHS executive unanimously rejects the government’s pernicious attempts to make hard working and dedicated NHS staff pay more, work longer and get less when they retire.

”The government’s attacks on public sector pensions are politically motivated, as part of an overall design to privatise the NHS, cut public services, break-up the national pay agreements, and disrupt legitimate trade union activities and organisation.

”Unite believes it is important to continue a campaign to maintain a fair and equitable system of public sector pensions and calls on ministers to enter into real, genuine and meaningful negotiations on the future of NHS pensions and public sector pensions.”

Unite’s concerns centre on three areas:
  • A high proportion of NHS staff will see their pension contributions jump from the current 6.5 per cent to 9.3 per cent by 2014/15, and other staff will see their contributions leap by nearly 50 per cent, with some paying 14.5 per cent of their salary into their pensions.
  • The linking of the NHS retirement age to the ever-increasing age that people will receive their state pensions. The state retirement age is set to rise to 66 in 2020 and 67 by 2026, with the prospect of working even longer in future decades. Unite is concerned that, for example, paramedics and nurses could be doing heavy lifting into their late 60s.
  • The proposed accrual rate for NHS staff is worse than the planned rates for other public sector schemes. Because this will be based on career average earnings, it will hit women who had taken career breaks to raise their children hardest.
The Unite HSNIC is due to meet again on 11 January to formulate future strategy. Unite has 100,000 members in the health service.

From the BBC website:


The Unite union has rejected the government's latest offer on public sector pensions for NHS workers.

The union's health sector committee called on ministers to enter "genuine and meaningful" negotiations on the future of pensions.

The union, which has 100,000 members in the NHS, will meet again on 11 January to decide what action to take next.

The government updated an offer for NHS workers in December, but stressed that it was its final offer.

A number of unions are meeting in the coming days to consider the proposed deal.

Unite's health sector national industrial committee unanimously rejected the offer.

It said that its concerns included the prospect of nurses and paramedics doing heavy lifting into their late 60s, as well as career average pensions affecting staff who took career breaks to raise children.

"Our NHS executive unanimously rejects the government's pernicious attempts to make hard working and dedicated NHS staff pay more, work longer and get less when they retire," said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.

"Unite believes it is important to continue a campaign to maintain a fair and equitable system of public sector pensions and calls on ministers to enter into real, genuine and meaningful negotiations on the future of NHS pensions and public sector pensions."

The move follows a decision by the British Medical Association (BMA) to survey around 130,000 doctors and medical students on the government's final offer.

The BMA said it would seek the views of its members on whether the proposed deal was acceptable, and if not, what action they would be prepared to take. The BMA said a formal ballot on industrial action - its first for more than 30 years - could follow.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Lewisham Council plans threaten teachers and education

Yesterday, Lewisham Council opened a four-week consultation which threatens the future employment of around hundred staff - and also threatens the education of the youngsters they support, youngsters with special needs who will deal particularly badly with change and disruption to their education.

The staff work at Meadowgate and Pendragon Special Schools and in the Communication and Interaction Outreach (CIT) Team based at Kaleidoscope in Catford. They have been told that they will have to go through a competitive interview process to secure future work from September - but will lose their jobs if unsuccessful.

This threat stems from the decision of the Council's Special Needs Review back in 2007 to close Meadowgate and Pendragon Schools and open a new school for students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD)  - to be called Drumbeat. However, staff always understood that that most of them would transfer employment to the new school. After all, they already have the skills, experience and knowledge of supporting these individual students.

Staff and unions have been asking for years for clarification as to how the transition from Meadowgate and Pendragon schools to Drumbeat would be handled. Now, to our shock and anger, we find at the last minute that the Council is refusing to guarantee continuing employment to staff but plans to put the jobs in the new school out to external advert at the same time as existing staff have to apply for posts. This is a clear threat to staff that they are not wanted in the new school. 

Students will also be disturbed to find that the staff that they have built up a relationship with may no longer be supporting and teaching them in September. In particular, staff and unions are concerned about students at Pendragon School who are presently studying for qualifications as it is unclear how the Council plans to teach these courses from September. Some families may be advised to seek a place in a mainstream school - but it is far from clear where places suitable for these youngsters can be found.

We are particularly concerned to find that, although the new Drumbeat will be catering for similar numbers of students as in the two existing schools, staff numbers are to be cut. The new school is intended to support students with even greater needs yet the Council plans to cut the budget compared to the existing schools. Is this the high-quality education that parents were promised in the Special Needs Review ?

The staff in the CIT have even more reason to be angry. As recently as last year, Council papers were clearly talking about the team '"transferring" to Drumbeat - with no suggestion that they would have to reapply for their posts. Now they face a period of unnecessary insecurity - along with the schools and students that they support.

Lewisham NUT - along with other staff unions - is strongly opposing this threat to teachers and education. There is no justification for treating staff and students in this way. We will be meeting with Council Officers on Friday and demanding that they rethink their plans. If they do not, then we will be mounting a strong campaign to defend staff and students from these plans.