Did not strike lightly

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I WAS disappointed at your front page coverage of the strike and rally which took place on June 30. Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) took the first national strike action in the union’s history, to protest against government plans to make them pay more, work longer and get less.

Striking was not a decision taken lightly. But after months of talks, we are still waiting for the government to tell us whether the Teachers’ Pension Scheme is in good health or not. It was valued in 2006 when measures were put in place to account for increased life expectancy – and it’s not been valued since.

This is why we are challenging government claims that teachers need to put in 3.4% more in contributions, that they need to get less by moving to career average rather than final salary and that they may need to work until they are 68 in order to secure the scheme.

While your report of the rally did mention some of this it focused more on a single challenge by Charles Cartwright who said the strike was about wanting more money. We are not asking for more money, the government is. In fact all indications show that the cost of pensions will go down over the next 50 years and the government has failed to give any evidence that the scheme is unaffordable.

One ATL member wrote on her banner ‘Teachers are tax payers too’, as a lot of the rhetoric around the strike suggests that teachers are somehow outside the society which supports them, which is nonsense.

Mr Cartwright also said public sector pensions cost tax payers millions. Dr Mary Bousted, ATL’s General Secretary, said: “In 2007/08, the taxpayer subsidised private sector pensions to the tune of £37.6 billion in subsidies and tax relief. The amount paid out that year in private sector pensions was £35 billion, the total paid in private sector pensions was actually subsidised by the state. The idea that public sector pensions are paid for by the taxpayer and private sector pensions have to pay for themselves isn’t true. Let’s stop this false pitting of private and public pensions against each other. The state pays through its taxes for public sector pensions and it pays indirectly through tax relief to pension contributions for private sector pensions, which don’t perform very well.”

Readers may ask why public sector pension reform does not currently include the very generous pensions of MPs, a scheme where an MP could work 15 years and draw a pension of up to £24,000 payable at retirement age.

You did acknowledge that the rally was peaceful. I can go further and say it was a great and powerful day and it was shameful that in this article you could not cover it in a more balanced way.

Katherine Fry, ATL senior organiser, Northern Region