Last week, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) voted overwhelmingly to strike in a row over changes to pensions. The NUT and the more moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), which had already voted in favour of strike action, will now join forces to maximise disruption, with a strike planned on the 30th of June.
The main grievance is the changes to their pension scheme under plans imposed by the coalition government’s austerity campaign. Teachers’ pensions are being devalued by the increase in the retirement age and the ending of final salary pension schemes.
It is possible that this could lead to a modern version of the ‘winter of discontent.’ With unions becoming increasingly vocal over planned cuts, it is entirely plausible that other public sector workers could follow the teachers in staging strikes across the nation.
However, teachers must be aware that they find themselves in a very similar position to millions in the private sector, many of whom have lost their benefit and pension schemes. It is unreasonable to expect people earning less than those in the public sector to subsidise better pensions than they themselves can afford.
Indeed, teachers can hardly say they are poorly paid; those days are very much in the past. Furthermore, they have much longer holidays than the average person in the private sector, and have incredibly generous job security. With the Labour government quite rightly investing significantly into education over the years, we have seen salaries rise in order to attract the best people to train our children.
With children exiting school with few transferable life skills, there are huge deficiencies in the system for which the profession needs to shoulder at least some of the blame. Neither the public nor private sectors are immune from the disease of ineffectual educators.
It is time for teachers and indeed the whole of the public sector to accept the realities of an austere world, and to recognise that a more affordable and indeed fairer way of funding their retirement needs to be found.
It should also be noted that the NUT’s motion to strike only passed with a 40% turnout. With much of the public believes that the public sector is full of overpaid, lazy and incompetent workers, it is highly doubtful that strike action will be widely supported. If strike proceed in Autumn, it seems likely that coalition will impose a 50% turnout threshold before a strike is legal. The public sector needs to wake up and realise that at the moment, there is little alternative.