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British teachers announce mass strike over pensions

British teachers announce mass strike over pensions
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Members of two major British teachers’ unions have voted in favour of a national strike over their pensions. Joined by a third public sector union, it means a quarter of a million civil servants will be involved in a mass walk-out on June 30.

Under government plans to cut the budget and reduce the UK’s deficit, teachers will have to work more years before they retire, pay more in pension contributions and receive lower pensions themselves. The retirement age will be 68, compared to the current 65. Some teachers could stand to lose tens, even hundreds of thousands of euros over the course of their retirement.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT), the country’s largest, announced that 92 percent voted in support of strike action. The turnout was 40 percent of eligible voting members.

“It is disgraceful that the Government is pressing ahead with its reforms which will affect teachers’ pensions. The government knows that they are affordable. This is a policy which has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with politics,” said NUT General Secretary Christine Blower.

“The NUT believes that our pensions are fair and affordable. The government wants teachers to pay more, work longer, and get less. They are pressing ahead with unnecessary reforms despite the changes already made to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme in 2007,” the union said on its website.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the third biggest teachers’ labour group in Britain, had similar results in their voting, with 83 percent in favour of the action.

ATL members have never gone on strike in the union’s 127-year history, according to a spokesman.

“National strike is our last resort,” said David Byrne in a telephone interview. He said the extra pension contribution required from teachers is “not necessary and a tax” on them.

Government officials have warned it would be a “big mistake” for civil servants to strike while negotiations are on-going, while the Department for Education says a strike will “damage pupils’ learning and inconvenience their busy working parents.”

Parents’ groups have already voiced their discontent at the news that tens of thousands of schools will remain shut. Quoted in the Daily Mail, Margaret Morrissey of campaign group Parents Outloud said “It is absolutely disgusting – I’m completely ashamed of our teachers today. It’s going to cause an awful lot of parents to pay for a day’s childcare.”

The two unions represent about 300,000 teachers. Should the strike go ahead, it will be the first by teachers in more than 25 years.

By Ali Sheikholeslami
London Correspondent

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