UK: Teachers mount legal battle over pensions

published 30 May 2011 updated 30 May 2011

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) is mounting a legal challenge in the British High Court to contest its government’s proposal to make changes to its members’ pension scheme.

The union is seeking a judicial review over the switch from the higher Retail Price Index (RPI) to the lower Consumer Price Index (CPI) of inflation because NASUWT believes the change could, for some teachers, mean a loss of more than £50,000 in the value of their pension over a 20-year period.

NASUWT General Secretary, Chris Keates, has spoken out strongly against the changes and argued that the proposals effectively ‘break the contract between teachers and the government because staff would have given consideration to the level of pension they were to get when they took decisions about if and when to retire.”

Keates added: “This has been such a devastating change and it has been imposed – it's not up for negotiation with the government. They took a unilateral decision to do this.”

NASUWT is joined by the Fire Brigades Union, the Prison Officers’ Association, the PCS civil servants' union, and the Unite union in mounting their challenge.

The case comes as the NASUWT has published the results of a survey of 35,000 members which suggests nine out of 10 teachers would support industrial action over planned changes to their pensions.

A number of other teaching unions, also affiliated to EI, including the ATL and NUT, have indicated they too will ballot on strike action over pension changes.

However, the NASUWT has committed itself to the Trades Union Congress (TUC)-led negotiations with the government before balloting for action.

Keates added: “Should the government either fail to take seriously the concerns of teachers or fail to use the negotiations with the TUC to seek an agreed outcome, then the overwhelming support for industrial action among NASUWT members will be translated into reality with inevitable and widespread disruption.”

EI is urging the British government to not switch from the RPI to the CPI when calculating teachers’ pensions and to respect the right of teachers’ unions’ to collectively bargain by engaging in immediate negotiations with union representatives.