Belfast Telegraph

Changes to public sector pensions 'will hit teaching profession badly'

BY NOEL MCADAM

Northern Ireland's newly-qualified teachers now face an even tougher challenge to find work after the Assembly accepted major public sector pension reforms, it has been claimed.

The impact of the changes will mean older teachers staying in their posts longer and fewer positions becoming available, the SDLP said.

Yesterday MLAs rubber-stamped a future increase in the public sector pension age.

Chancellor George Osborne has announced that the State retirement age would go up to 68 some time in the mid-2030s.

The Public Service Pensions Bill aims to move public service pensions to a system based on average earnings with the pension age linked to State pension age.

The move affects nurses, doctors, teachers, local government workers and other public servants who make up almost 30% of the province's workforce.

MLAs had been warned that the Treasury would cut Northern Ireland's block grant by between £262m and £300m next year if the province went its own way on pensions.

The SDLP was the only Executive party to vote against the changes. It argued the upheaval would be bad for teachers, whether they are at the beginning or the end of their careers.

In Northern Ireland the supply of new teachers vastly outnumbers those retiring. Recruitment rates for newly-qualified teachers hit just 5% in 2012.

"With the pension age increasing to 68 some of our longest serving educators, who have dedicated their lives to our young people, will have to work for years longer to reach their pension," SDLP education spokes-man Sean Rogers said.

And during the Assembly debate his colleague Dominic Bradley added: "(It) will help to ensure that fewer and fewer teachers will exit the profession early and that, therefore, fewer younger teachers will enter it."

After the vote – with 77 MLAs in favour and 13 against – Finance Minister Simon Hamilton said protections had been built in for people within 10-14 years of retirement.

"I argue that our job as legislators is to be longsighted and to look as best we can for the next generation and even beyond, if we can, to ensure that public sector pensions are not only affordable but sustainable in the long- term," the DUP minister added.

But Daithi McKay, the Sinn Fein chairman of the committee which monitors the Finance Department, said some MLAs "have a bad habit of nodding in deference to anything that the Government in London put before us". Despite this, Sinn Fein voted to implement the changes.

The biggest public sector union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, had already hit out at the "shredding" of the contracts of thousands of workers.

Yesterday Nipsa assistant secretary Bumper Graham called it "bad news for almost 250,000 public servants (who have) been paying more for their pensions and now they're going to have to work a lot longer to get a much reduced pension".

FACTFILE

More than 216,000 people, or around one-third of Northern Ireland's workforce, will be affected by the pension changes. They include civil servants, local government officers, teachers, health service workers, prison officers, police officers and firefighters. Using a model based on average earnings, the Bill links the retirement age of public servants to the State pension age. It means staff expecting to be able to retire at 60 or 65 will have to work to 68, and probably receive a smaller pension.

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