An indicative ballot of National Education Union teacher members working in the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST)'s independent schools has shown overwhelming opposition to the employer's plan to withdraw from the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS).
93% of members voted in favour of moving to a strike ballot, on a turnout of 93%. (1)
The union will now move to a formal strike ballot to be conducted in January 2022. Potential dates for discontinuous strike action are still to be decided. These would constitute the first days of strike action in the Trust's entire 149-year history.
Under the proposal to leave the TPS, teachers will be at least 20% worse off on average in terms of the annual amount they receive in pension payments. Teachers have already reluctantly accepted a pay freeze this year and seen their standard of living fall over several years with pay increases below inflation.
Staff are also angry that their employer has threatened them with a policy of 'fire and rehire' to drive these changes through. (2)
Financial accounts for the Trust, in the public domain, show Trust finances in good health. There is no justification for withdrawal from the TPS, and so far the employer has failed to provide a compelling argument in defence of their plan.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"This is a clear and emphatic message to the Girls' Day School Trust. It should leave the employer in no doubt about the strength of feeling against this unacceptable attack on teacher pensions. During the period of the indicative ballot, the employer has failed to dispel the concerns of our members.
"This is an exceptionally strong mandate. It makes strike action look inevitable. The Trust should reflect on just how a large body of committed and hard-working staff have reached this point. Members are resolved and rightly determined to defend their pensions.
"We sincerely hope that strikes can be averted. We call on the GDST to engage seriously with the National Education Union and withdraw the proposal to leave the Teachers’ Pension Scheme."
(1) The indicative ballot ran from 22 November to 6 December 2021. The question put was:
"Are you prepared to take part in sustained and discontinuous strike action in furtherance of this dispute?
"Employer’s proposal to withdraw from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme."
GDST own 23 independent girls’ schools across England and Wales. 71% of its teaching staff are members of the NEU, as of December 2021. Only teachers were eligible to vote in the indicative ballot. The NEU also represents staff at GDST working in other capacities.
(2) Notice under Section 188, Trade Union, and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 was given to the NEU even before a word was exchanged in consultation. In a letter to the NEU dated 22 September, the GDST wrote (our italics):
"As you will be aware, the GDST is required to provide further information concerning the consultation, and in particular about the proposed change to terms and conditions of employment. Under section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, the GDST must consult with the NEU as the appropriate representatives of the affected employees.
"We hope the proposal to vary terms and conditions can be agreed through the collective consultation process with the NEU. However, where agreement cannot be reached during the consultation and the GDST changes an employee's terms and conditions by issuing contractual notice and re-engaging affected employees on the proposed terms of employment, such a proposal would fall under section 188 of the above legislation, which means we have to provide certain prescribed information.
"However, the GDST very much hopes, through full dialogue, any variation to terms of employment can be agreed with you."