Schools hit as storm grows over pensions

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SCHOOLS in Sheffield will be hit next week as up to 3,000 teachers go on strike amid growing public sector opposition to national changes in pensions.

It is part of a national day of action in response to the Government’s strategy of raising the retirement age to 66, increasing pension contributions and moving from final salary to career average schemes.

Across the country, civil servants and college lecturers are also planning to walk out as public sector unions warn of a sustained campaign of industrial action. Sheffield College said this week it was waiting to hear whether it will be affected.

Schools will be disrupted by a walk-out by members of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Toby Mallinson, joint divisional secretary of the Sheffield NUT branch, said 98% of members who took part in a ballot supported a strike.

“There is no doubt that every school in the city will be affected,” he said. “I believe June 30 is likely to be just a sneak preview of what is to come – the mood is already one of anger and it extends way beyond pensions to other current issues in education.”

Members of another teaching union, the NASUWT, have so far opted to continue negotiations with the Government rather than hold a strike ballot. Teaching assistants are not affected

Schools have been told by Sheffield City Council to stay open wherever possible, but headteachers will have to take decisions individually on how many classes can continue normally.

A spokesman said: “This is a national dispute over which Sheffield City Council has no control.

“The council believes the pension scheme is an important part of the overall package of terms and conditions available to employees.

“However, it does recognise the need to ensure that pension provisions are sustainable and affordable for both the employer and employees.

“At this stage the council is awaiting the outcome of Government negotiations with the trade unions before it is able to comment further and identify the impact on its workforce.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which has members in Government departments in Sheffield, and the University and Colleges Union are also set to take action as part of the national dispute.

In Sheffield, strikers and anti-cuts campaigners will assemble in the Peace Gardens at noon on Thursday before a rally outside the City Hall at 1pm.

Council workers in the city could join the pensions protest at a later date.

Chris Jenkinson, Sheffield-based regional officer for Unison which represents council workers around the county, said: “If there is no agreement with the Government on pensions, we may be in a position to undertake a national ballot of all council staff for a sustained campaign of industrial action through the summer.”

Changes to public sector pensions scheme have been recommended because retired people are living longer and there is not enough money being paid into schemes to cover costs.

Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said everyone agreed there needed to be change. “We will take the time to carry on talking to the trade unions so reforms are made on a collaborative basis.”