Teachers at 23 private schools across Britain are threatened with fire and rehire in a move to cut their pensions, but they plan to fight back. Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in the Girls’ Day School Trust have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in an indicative ballot. rs21 and NEU member Luigi Brindisi, who works at one of the affected schools, reports on the dispute and explains why it has important implications for the whole education sector. 

Croydon High School, one of 23 schools in the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) where teachers are threatened with fire & rehire

Over 1000 National Education Union (NEU) members at 23 schools across the country, in the fee-paying Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) group, have voted in an indicative ballot to take industrial action to defend their pensions. GDST management are planning to take teaching staff out of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) and force them onto vastly inferior schemes, saving the employers millions a year.

In September, GDST management announced they wanted to start a consultation period about continued membership of TPS, a defined benefits plan which guarantees a certain level of retirement income.

Very quickly it became apparent that they were only interested in ‘consulting’ about which defined contributions scheme teachers would be forced onto. These schemes carry much more uncertainty about retirement income even with considerably higher contributions,

This has incensed teaching staff. Across the sector management have verbally praised staff for their commitment during the covid pandemic, but meanwhile they clearly feel they can get away with an outlandish attack on conditions.

GDST executives are claiming that potential changes to the funding of TPS would make it unaffordable to the Trust. This doesn’t hold much water, as GDST are spending millions on refurbishing school premises, and have even seen total funds rise by £1.4 million in the last year.

A series of meetings with pension advisors and Trust executives only seemed to convince more teachers that staying in TPS is the best option. The indicative ballot that has just closed showed 93% voted in favour of action on a 93% turnout. NEU organises 70% of teaching staff in the group and many members of the teachers’ union NASUWT will also feel angry.

In the NEU press release announcing the start of the ballot, the union announced that this is ‘the first ever national ballot on strike action in GDST’s 149-year history, which shows the depth of feeling and anger this proposal has created amongst staff.’

Even before the consultation period has ended, management are initiating ‘Section 188’ proceedings. This essentially means making workers redundant and re-employing them under worse conditions, usually referred to as ‘fire and rehire. They will undoubtedly come back for more attacks if they get away with this.

Unionised teachers in over 60 schools in the private sector have already successfully defeated similar attacks, but the size of the GDST group makes this a key dispute for the NEU and for the Teachers’ Pension Scheme in every sector of education. If GDST management win this then the multi-academy trusts will be lining up to do the same, ultimately the entire scheme could be under threat. Teacher recruitment is already declining post-lockdown and the TPS is one of the major reasons for teachers staying in the job with the enormous workload and pressure involved.

If management do not withdraw this threat then the next stage is to carry out a postal ballot for strike action, likely to happen early on the new year. If there is a strike then the union has agreed sustentation, where lost wages are replaced by the union as strike pay, but messages of support would be most welcome.

Every socialist, trade unionist and worker should support this fight against fire and rehire and others in any sector. There are campaigns to outlaw fire and rehire, which should be supported, but it is only resistance in workplaces that can win this fight and put an end to the practice. We have already seen successful resistance to this in other sectors including Go Ahead NW buses.

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