Pensions Drive Possible UK Head Teacher Strike, Shutdown

Teachers in England and Wales will stage the largest industrial action ever in November if the ballot calling for a strike is approved by union members, The Telegraph reports. The National Association of Head Teachers is planning to put the proposal in front of voters in the coming weeks. If the strike is approved, the union, which represents 28,000 head teachers and assistant head teachers across the UK, will stage its first walkout in its 114-year history on November 30th.

The issue at stake is a list of recommended changes to the public pension scheme proposed by Lord Hutton after he oversaw a review of the system earlier this year. Under Hutton’s proposal, public employees will have to work until at least the age of 65 to receive pension payments. Hutton also proposed to change the way the payments are determined from final salary to average lifetime earnings.

Changes are needed as the price of pensions is no longer sustainable because of the national debt and rising life expectancy, the Coalition claim.

Other unions are also sending out ballots to members proposing a coordinated action with NAHT. The National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the University and College Union have already staged one walkout in June, and are now sending out ballots to the membership to decide if they will join in on a walkout in November. If the votes succeed, the strike will close all primary and secondary schools in England and Wales.

One other classroom union – the NASUWT – has announced it will ballot members over industrial action and the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents secondary heads, could also join the walk-out.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, has also announced plans for a strike in November.

In this period of budget cuts and deficits and growing national debt, teacher unrest is not limited to one side of the Atlantic. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that in Tacoma, Washington, teachers have been out on strike for 10 days even though courts have issued 19 injunctions against teachers striking in the state since 1976. Citing the previous rulings, the Tacoma School District argued in court that teacher strikes in Washington are illegal.

State and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike, according to a 2006 state attorney general’s opinion. But that opinion also noted state law lacks specific penalties to punish striking public employees.