ATL's statement on the new offer

Commentary on the new TPS proposals from ATL general secretary Mary Bousted.

The Treasury first announced proposed changes to the Teachers' Pension Scheme in October 2010 and stated they were non-negotiable. Since then you have campaigned hard to convince the government to negotiate in good faith and to improve its offer.

Over the past 15 months, you have been on strike for the first time in ATL's 127-year history, lobbied your MPs in person and writing, signed petitions, attended rallies and marches, organised meetings at your workplaces, talked to parents and governors.

  Government opening position Offer 2 November 2011 Agreed 19 December 2011
    Following action on 2 June Following action on 30 November
Scheme accrual rate (see FAQs) 1/65th 1/60th 1/57th
Retirement age State retirement age (SRA), currently planned to rise to 68 SRA (except for transitional protection) Improved actuarial reduction and accrual makes retirement at 65 financially viable
Protection None Members over 50 stay in current scheme until retirement As 2 November, plus members aged 46.5 to 50 transfer to the new scheme later
Access for independent school teachers No commitment No commitment Commitment for teachers to stay in the scheme

It is sad but true: while months of talking produced no movement from the government despite the quality of the arguments, two very large strikes and subsequent negotiation produced these significant changes.

I want to share with you my experience of negotiations so you can understand why I signed ATL up to the Heads of Agreement, which laid down the principles for this offer. The final days of negotiation before Christmas 2011 were very fast moving and intense. The economic and political situation was worsening and, on two occasions, the Treasury withdrew offers that had been on the table. Such circumstances require difficult judgments to be made, and I believe ATL's negotiators, led by myself, acted responsibly in making them.

I received confidential briefings from a range of sources which led to the conclusion that the Treasury was under pressure to abandon the talks and impose the original proposals. Even at the 11th hour, ATL refused to agree the proposals without further improvements, including a commitment that independent schools which already have access to the Teachers' Pension Scheme will continue to do so for both existing and new teachers – which the government side eventually conceded.

At that time, it was clear the government would only agree to the proposals if at least one major TUC union was prepared to sign. ATL was prepared to do so because we believed it was the best offer which could be achieved by negotiation.

The alternative would have been a withdrawal of all concessions made from 2 November and the imposition of a worse scheme without the protection now available to over 40% of teachers, lecturers and leaders, nor the inclusion of independent school teachers.

What are the beneficial aspects to the proposals?

  • A career average scheme benefits teachers who are not promoted, or who are promoted early in their careers.

  • An accrual rate of 1/57ths, rather than the current 1/80ths for who joined the TPS before 2007 and 1/60ths for those who joined after 2007. This would mean a teacher's pension would grow at a faster rate than in the current TPS. This represents a 14% improvement on the accrual rate of 1/65ths, as outlined by the Government in the initial proposal.

  • A reduced rate of actuarial reduction from 65 onwards would mean a smaller penalty for taking pension before the normal retirement age and, when combined with the improved accrual rate, this would make retirement at 65 financially viable.

  • Under a career average scheme, pension entitlements depend on the individual teacher's exact career path, so the pension calculator gives an approximation but illustrates the features described above.

ATL has also produced some case study examples to demonstrate the changes under the latest proposals.

Which proposals were we unable to improve?

  • The government refused to negotiate on its decision to replace RPI with CPI as the index of inflation for pensions.

  • The government would not negotiate on its decision to impose unjustified contribution increases. To counteract this, ATL insisted on a clause in the agreement reopening the issue for 2015, with trends in opt-out from the scheme to be taken into account.

So both the government and the unions have made concessions.

What was the alternative to accepting these proposals?

If ATL's Executive Committee had failed to confirm the agreement and there wasn't at least one other major TUC teachers' union accepting the deal, the government would have immediately imposed a scheme as per its original proposals. We considered long and hard whether any other course of action than negotiation could force the government to reverse that imposition. The only one available would be a prolonged campaign of industrial action undertaken by all teachers.

Faced with such a campaign this government could react belligerently. In current economic and political circumstances, to maintain the high level of public support for public sector workers shown on 30 November would be difficult.

The government has stated clearly it is not prepared to enter into further discussion on issues it regards as closed, so there is no scope for further negotiation on any of the main features of the scheme. There is to be a timetable for further discussion of eight issues of detail (see Annex A of the Heads of Agreement).

This is not the scheme we wished for when setting out on our historic campaign, but I am proud that ATL members have achieved for themselves through campaigning activity a better scheme than the government intended.

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