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Teacher strike action vote looms in Northern Ireland

By Lindsay Fergus

The majority of Northern Ireland's 1,200 schools could be forced to close next month if tens of thousands of teachers vote to go on strike in a row over pensions and education cuts.

All five teaching unions here - NASUWT, NAHT, INTO, UTU and ATL - have now decided to ballot their members on a mass walkout on Wednesday, November 30.

The decision to ballot members was taken after the Executive gave the green light earlier this month to proceed with proposed changes to the Teachers' Pension scheme.

Department of Finance and Personnel was warned by the UK Treasury that if it did not impose the pensions changes from April 1 next year, £4.6m would be deducted of the Northern Ireland block grant every month.

Education Minister John O'Dowd (right) has told ATL "in this current financial climate such a reduction (to the block grant) would inevitably have an impact on frontline services in the education sector".

However unions, who represent around 30,000 teachers, are angry that they were not consulted locally on the matter which will see their pension contributions rise by an additional £58 a month by 2014 for those on the lowest salaries.

They are claiming their members will 'pay more, work longer and get less'.

Under the proposed pension changes a teacher earning £21,000 will have to pay an extra £61 a month or £732 a year towards their pension and a teacher retiring after 36 years on a salary of £41,000 would see their pension slashed by more than £5,000 (27.5%) to £13,000.

Gerry Murphy, Northern secretary of INTO, said: "The announcement by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to impose changes to the pension arrangements for teachers without meaningful consultation was the final straw for our members.

"INTO had been promised consultation on any changes to the pension scheme but Mr Wilson's announcement makes a mockery of this and has shown teachers how this Executive is proposing to treat the teaching profession. This is the breaking point for our members and we have no option but to ask them to strike.

"The decision to strike has not been taken lightly and if Mr Wilson and his Executive team wish to avert this strike then INTO demands that this Executive decision is immediately rescinded."

DFP yesterday refused to comment.

Mark Langhammer, director of ATL, said: "An actuarial evaluation of the pension scheme was due in 2009 but has not been undertaken. ATL believes that the pension scheme is in rude health."

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