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Following the announcement that the Association for Teachers and Lecturers will hold a ballot on strike action to protect their pensions, please find below comment from Christopher Mordue, partner in the Employment team at international law firm Pinsent Masons.
The ATL’s decision to ballot for industrial action has to be seen as part of a bigger picture in the education sector and the public sector generally. Proposed changes to the Teacher’s Pension Scheme – the subject of the ATL ballot – have already prompted strikes by UCU members in the University sector, co-ordinated with strike action by the same union over much more advanced reforms to the USS pension scheme.

In fact UCU are running two simultaneous industrial action disputes – over both pension reform and pay and job security. The emphasis of the UCU strike action so far has been very firmly on opposing pension reform – that is the issue on which they obtained by far the stronger mandate for strike action.

What we seem to be seeing is that public sector pension reform is the issue which commands the deepest support for strike action among trade union members and is emerging as the most likely trigger for widespread and co-ordinated industrial action across the public sector, rather than the impact of spending cuts on jobs and pay. The problem for individual employers caught up in these disputes is that decisions on pension reform are not taken directly by them but by the trustees of the pension schemes. So public sector employers risk being locked into disputes which they have no real ability to resolve directly or locally – instead they will have to make thorough contingency plans to weather the storm until it blows itself out.

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