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Teaching unions threaten action over pensions

A coordinated strike among teachers is looming, as teaching unions are poised to join forces on industrial action over proposed changes to their pensions.

Yesterday, the conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) voted overwhelmingly to ballot on strike action over pension reforms, which will mean an end to final salary pensions for them, a decision that is to be confirmed this autumn.

Following this vote, ATL's executive committee is to meet this afternoon to decide whether to authorise a ballot for a strike this summer.

And with the National Union of Teachers due to hold its own conference this Easter weekend, it is likely the union will follow the path of the ATL.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: "Members deeply regret having to take this step to ballot for strike action, but they believe they need to take a strong stand now to make the Government listen."

Addressing the ATL conference, to heckles and jeers, schools minister Nick Gibb, said: "The issue of teacher pensions is one that is exercising the minds of teachers, teacher unions and the Government. As well as the huge pressures on public spending as a result of the Budget deficit, there are also long-term pressures on all pension funds - both public sector and private - as a result of longer life expectancy and reduced financial returns on pension capital.

"In his report, Lord Hutton underlined the importance of continuing to provide high-quality pension schemes to essential public service workers such as teachers, while ensuring current and future generations of public servants can also be rewarded for their hard work with a fair but affordable pension.

"We have already been clear that we don't want to see a race to the bottom in pension provision - and that public service pensions should remain a gold standard. A good pension has long been an important part of the overall reward package that teachers expect.

"The combination of more teacher pensioners and the increase in their life expectancy has meant that the cost of teachers' pensions increases every year. In 2005/06, the cost of paying teachers' pensions was around £5 billion. By 2015/16, the cost is forecast to rise to almost £10 billion.

"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.

"From the start, the Government has made its commitment to protecting accrued rights absolutely clear. All the benefits that have been built up in a teacher's pension will not be affected by any reforms recommended by Hutton. This means there is absolutely nothing to be gained by teachers seeking to retire earlier than they have planned.

"The Government has accepted Lord Hutton's recommendations as the basis for discussions with all the trades unions. There have already been some constructive discussions between the TUC and the Government. The aim is to agree a package of principles for pensions reform by the end of June. I fully understand the strength of feeling here in this room - but I strongly urge the ATL to wait for the outcome of those discussions before deciding on whether to take further action."