An emergency meeting of NUT Divisional Secretaries from across England and Wales met today at NUT Headquarters to discuss our campaigns on pensions, performance management and academies.
Those campaigns are, of course, interlinked. Government plans threaten to destroy teaching as a career and create a divided education system made up of privatised schools, staffed by overworked and underpaid teachers. If we don’t defeat these attacks, some staff won’t even be able to afford to belong to the pensions scheme, let alone work on ‘til 68 or more so that they can claim their full pension rights. This will be disastrous for education, not just for teachers.
That’s no exaggeration. Reports of schools where teachers are already being bullied and threatened unfairly with endless classroom observations and ‘incapability’ dismissals revealed the intolerable stress that already exists in too many schools. As one Local NUT Secretary asked, if Gove gets away with his ‘bullies charter’ plans, how long would we survive if we have to teach on to 68 under these intolerable pressures?
One contributor pointed out that young teachers will be faced with losing around half of their income before they’ve paid a single bill. 20% will go on tax (after their personal allowance), up to 12% on National Insurance, perhaps 9% on Student Loans and now around 8% on pension contributions. The pension is the only part of their tight budgets that will be ‘optional’ – so many young teachers could choose to opt-out, leaving them to retire in poverty and undermining the overall pensions scheme funding for their colleagues still paying in to the scheme.
The mood of the meeting was sober but determined. We know that we cannot let this inadequate pensions deal be inflicted on our members. Nor do we want to signal a retreat that gives added confidence to the Government to mount all its other attacks on education as well.
The Union is taking confidence from its email survey that showed that 93% of NUT members supported the Union’s refusal to sign-up to the Heads of Agreement. It was also confirmed that, while the ATL had regrettably signed-up, the NAHT Council had refused to do so.
With joint meetings still going on, the NUT hopes that we will be able to agree a common strike date in March with other trade unions, including a number of education unions in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This would need to be part of an ongoing campaign to force the Government to yield meaningful concessions over the unjustifiable increases in both retirement age and pension contributions.
It’s true, as the ATL argue, that our action has won some minor concessions. However, as the ATL previously agreed when they took action in November, they are nowhere near enough.
Detailed figures presented by Kevin Courtney showed how the Government's original proposals to negotiators would have meant cutting pension payouts to 75% of what they are under the existing scheme. The concessions wrung out of them had increased that to 81%. But that’s still a massive cut!
As Kevin put it, it’s like being robbed of £10, then the thief coming along and giving you back £1.50 but expecting you to be grateful!
Divisional Secretaries gave their backing to the Executive’s plan to build support for further action through a survey of individual members in preparation for further strike action in March. We also agreed to prepare collective action to oppose Gove's threatened 'bullies charter'
The Executive will finalise plans for the survey when we meet again next week. It will then be down to every school rep and Local Officer to go out and build support for action. On the basis of reports from Secretaries who had been going into schools to debate the issues, we can be confident that NUT members will respond positively and give their support for further action.