Education & Family

Teachers heckle minister over pension fears

Nick Gibb
Image caption Nick Gibb faced jeers from teachers angry over pension changes

Teachers have heckled the schools minister over proposed changes to public-sector pensions.

Nick Gibb faced jeers and shouts of "rubbish" as he addressed the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

On Tuesday, the conference of the traditionally moderate union voted for a strike ballot over pension changes.

"There is clearly a huge passion about the pensions issue," said Mr Gibb afterwards.

The schools minister had told teachers that the government could not "ignore the realities of the cost pressures" of the pension scheme.

The union's general secretary, Mary Bousted, said: "If ATL is so angry, where is the government going to go on its pension reforms. We're middle England, if you alienate us where do you go?"

First strike

Mr Gibb's speech to the conference in Liverpool came a day after the union voted for a ballot for what could be the union's first ever national strike.

Teachers spoke out against pension changes, which they said would mean working for more years for lower benefits.

The campaign over pensions could see the ATL joining other teachers' unions in staging a joint walkout this summer term.

The ATL's executive committee says it will co-ordinate its strike ballot with other teachers' unions, if they also vote for a strike ballot over pensions at their Easter conferences.

Image caption Mary Bousted: "ATL members are very angry - and it takes a lot to get them this angry"

In her conference speech on Wednesday, Dr Bousted told delegates: "We prepare for a strike, for the first time in our history, more in sorrow than in anger. We do not want to strike. We want to avoid a strike. But when reason fails, what is left?"

She told delegates that it was unfair for public-sector workers to pay through their pensions for the damage caused by the global financial crisis.

And she attacked the "cynical mantra from cabinet millionaires that we are all in this together".

'Gold standard'

Mr Gibb had told teachers that there needed to be changes to a pension scheme which because of longer life expectancy was becoming increasingly expensive.

He said that in the decade between 2005 and 2015, the annual cost of paying teachers' pensions would have risen from £5bn to £10bn.

"This is why long-term reform of public service schemes is needed - and why teachers and other public-service scheme members are being asked to pay a higher pension contribution from April 2012," Mr Gibb told the conference.

But he promised that "public-service pensions should remain a gold standard".

The strike ballot motion adopted on Tuesday said the pension changes will include raising the retirement age to 68 and the replacement of the final-salary scheme with a career-average scheme, which would mean a lower pension for many teachers.

The union says that the proposed public-sector pension changes would see teachers on average losing 25% of the value of their pension.

Teachers at the conference also challenged the idea of having to work beyond the age of 65.

"Can you imagine being a reception teacher and trying to get on and off those little chairs at 68? I think not," said history teacher, Alice Robinson.

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