Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Striking is wrong option for teachers

Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) can hardly be called strike-happy militants.

If they go ahead with industrial action on November 30 - they are to be balloted on the issue shortly - it will be the first strike in the 127-year history of the union. So that demonstrates that members feel very deeply about proposed changes to their pensions, which would see them pay more, work longer and get less in return.

Not unnaturally they feel this is unjust and they believe that industrial action is the only way to make the Government take heed of their feelings. Sadly for them, problems with pensions are not confined to teachers or even the public sector. All workers face a progressively later retirement age and pension pots are being denuded year after year by lower returns on investments and employers' desire to lessen the burden on themselves.

As well as the general economic climate, there is another major hurdle facing the ATL and its proposed strike action. It will come at a time when children here are completing the various tests set for the transfer from primary to secondary schools. Even if the teachers argue that their strike would only have a very short-term impact while the Government's pensions policy will affect workers for years to come, the public will look unkindly on any action which would affect the education of children, especially at such a vital time.

While accepting that there is deep anger within the teaching profession over the changes to their pensions, industrial action would be hugely unpopular and probably counter-productive. It is far better for the teachers to continue to press for meaningful negotiations and to join with other public sector workers to present a consolidated front, short of striking.

They have more hope of success with public support behind them than with public anger against them. It is an important issue and the teachers have a good case. What they must not do is undermine it by precipitous strike action.

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