Teachers took strike action at two schools in Camden, north London, today over plans to scrap recruitment and retention (R&R) payments to new teachers. The payments are designed to ease the financial burden teachers face when entering the profession on low starting salaries with student debts to pay off.
There has been a campaign over this issue in Camden for more than ten years. At present not all schools make the payments.
At Maria Fidelis school – where R&R is currently paid to new teachers – over 30 teachers joined the picket line.
Darren Wright, a striking English teacher, said, “Teachers shouldn’t have to take responsibility for the bad financial planning of management. It’s difficult to live in London as a newly qualified teacher, even with R&R. I don’t believe the money is not available. Where does all the money go?”
Giorgia, a language teacher, said, “The new plans would mean that new teachers wouldn’t have the same benefits as existing teachers. As a long-term supply teacher, I think we should have the same rights as anyone else.”
Sarah Boon and Lia Elia, told Socialist Worker, “We are striking as a last resort. No one wants to stop the kids going to school, but unless we fight, they will lose their good teachers.
“If R&R is taken away from new teachers, they will eventually try to take it away from existing staff as well. We just want fair pay.”
Kevin Courtney, branch secretary of Camden National Union of Teachers (NUT) told Socialist Worker, “We’ve been fighting a campaign over recruitment and retention for more than ten years. There have been many twists and turns in the campaign. Many schools in Camden do pay, and this has stabilised recruitment in the borough.
“There is very strong support from teachers for the current action. I think this shows that there will also be strong support for our national pay campaign. Teachers, like other public sector workers, are beginning to feel the pinch of this pay freeze.”
Teachers at Hampstead school also struck, with around 60 joining the picket line. Helen, an NUT union rep, told Socialist Worker, “New staff haven’t had R&R payments since September 2006 and a lot of staff are leaving. Management’s offer didn’t include all staff – we just want a fair settlement.”
Kate added, “Some teachers in our department don’t get R&R – it means people are doing the same job for different money.”
Teachers recognise that the attack on new teachers could easily spread to all. “Initially R&R was withdrawn from new teachers,” said Steve. “But this is the thin end of the wedge. As new teachers become a majority it could be taken away from everyone.”
In the context of the current pay dispute, where the NUT is balloting for strike action to reject a below-inflation pay offer, the attempt to stop R&R payments is one of many attacks facing teachers. “The three year deal is appalling,” said Steve. “We’re in a very unstable economic situation which can potentially get worse. It would be extremely short sighted to accept the deal.”
Teachers will now re-enter into negotiations with their employers over the R&R payments, and could take further action if a deal isn’t reached.