Education & Family

Gove appeals for teachers to rethink strike

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Media captionMichael Gove urged public sector workers threatening to strike to "think again"

Education Secretary Michael Gove has criticised union "hardliners" "itching for a fight" ahead of Wednesday's public sector strikes.

In a speech at think tank Policy Exchange, Mr Gove warned that 90% of England's schools would be closed by striking teachers and appealed for them to think again.

He said union "militants" wanted families to be inconvenienced.

But the PCS union said the public supported the strikes.

It said: "A BBC poll released today shows overwhelming support for the strike and overwhelmingly people feel that Gove's government is mishandling the economy. Gove's speech smacks more of desperation than opinion and will fall on deaf ears."

The strike over pension changes in the public sector could involve up to two million people.

Mr Gove said of union leaders: "They want mothers to give up a day's work, or pay for expensive childcare, because schools will be closed. They want teachers and other public sector workers to lose a day's pay in the run-up to Christmas.

"They want scenes of industrial strife on our TV screens. They want to make economic recovery harder - they want to provide a platform for confrontation just when we all need to pull together."

He went on to say it was "unfair and unrealistic" to expect taxpayers to foot the increasing public sector pensions bill.

"So today I want to appeal directly to teachers - and other public sector workers: please, even now, think again."

Mr Gove insisted the offer being made to teachers was a good one, adding that the Department for Education had contacted every teacher directly last week with a detailed explanation of the changes.

He said they were being given extra support in having their disciplinary powers strengthened and their concerns listened to.

Pensions 'to cost £10bn'

Final-salary pension schemes were closing at record rates, he said, adding that it was difficult to justify why public sector pensions should be safeguarded.

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Media captionKevin Courtney, NUT: "We've done everything we can to try and avert the strike"

But he had already secured more from the Treasury, he said, and now there was a need "for all of us to move to agreement".

But he argued that the Teachers Pension Scheme was an unfunded scheme, and that current pension contributions from employers and employees were not enough to pay all current pensioners.

The shortfall was being met by taxes paid by all workers.

"In 2005-06 it cost £5bn to pay teachers' pensions. By 2015-16 the cost will have risen to £10bn. So reform is vital if we're to be fair to other taxpayers."

He said this week's strikes would not change the facts that had led the government to reform pensions.

"They will not make the tough decisions any easier. But they will force tens of thousands of parents to scrabble around for emergency childcare or plead with their bosses for a day off. And they will deprive children of a day's schooling.

"I must warn parents that many schools are going to close. The overwhelming majority, north of 90%.

"But while I am deeply opposed to this action, and the damage it generates, I don't want any rancour to enter this debate and I don't want to see the professional respect in which teachers are held undermined."

General secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers Russell Hobby said: "After a decade of good industrial relations, blame for any rise in union militancy - particularly among moderate unions - belongs fairly and squarely at the government's door: a failure to negotiate in any meaningful sense until the last minute."

Mary Bousted, general secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said her members were among the least militant union members in the country.

"They don't want to strike, and they have never wanted to strike. We have been asking the government to negotiate a fair deal for teachers for over ten months and are desperately keen to resolve the dispute."

She suggested Mr Gove should be prepared for a bit more give and take in the ongoing talks with education unions.

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