Pensions row could bring first teachers’ strike since the 80s

TEACHERS in Scotland’s schools could be set to strike for the first time since the 1980s in protest against changes to their pensions.

The country’s largest teaching union, the EIS, is expected to begin balloting members in the coming weeks over strike action in response to reforms to public sector pensions.

Union leaders claim the changes will see teachers forced to contribute more to their pensions and work longer before they retire.

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Changes to the way pensions are calculated will also see teachers receiving less, according to the EIS.

Calls for a strike ballot have come from the union’s influential strategy sub-committee.

Should a ballot be approved by the union’s executive, teachers at all local authority nursery, primary, secondary and special schools would be asked to vote on possible strike action, which is expected to take the form of an initial one-day walkout.

If it went ahead it would be the first time since 1986 that a national teachers’ strike has taken place in Scotland.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS, said: “At the recent EIS annual general meeting, Scottish teachers sent a clear message that their patience with attacks on their standard of living is exhausted.

“At a time of imposed pay freezes on public sector pay, coupled with soaring prices for food, fuel, clothing and transport, teachers are not prepared to accept further erosion in their living standards. For hard-pressed teachers, the prospect of paying more of their salary into a pension scheme with the promise of working longer and getting far less at the end just might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC), told teachers not to expect any sympathy.

She said: “Parents are going to be very concerned about the prospect of strike action. I suspect the response is going to be one where there’s not a huge amount of sympathy for teachers.

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“There’s a feeling that everyone is being squeezed. The reaction I’m getting from parents is they feel that teachers are getting a pretty good deal.”

The EIS said the recommendation for a strike ballot from its strategy sub-committee was a “warning” to ministers not to ignore its members.

While pension reform is a matter reserved for the UK government, any changes north of the Border would require the support of the Scottish Government.

However, finance secretary John Swinney has voiced criticism of Westminster’s approach to public sector pension reform.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Ken Macintosh said: “The SNP government has a very serious obligation to parents and pupils to ensure we do not return to the type industrial action which Scotland’s schools saw in the 1980s.

“It is absolutely critical that changes are negotiated properly, and it would be completely wrong for ministers to try and trade pension rights for salary cuts.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Public sector pensions must be affordable and sustainable but we do not believe the UK government‘s proposals represent the correct course of action.

“We believe that the UK government must reconsider its proposals before seeking to impose significant changes on public service staff at this time.

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“The Scottish Government has embarked upon a series of meetings with other public sector employers and unions as to how we address this significant issue.”

According to the EIS, indications from England and Wales show pension contributions may rise by 0.6 per cent of pay for those earning less than £26,000 and up to 2 per cent for those earning between £40,000 and £75,000.