By Sam Ord
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Strike over fire and rehire pensions raid hits 23 schools

There's money for buildings and bosses, but not workers
Issue 2792
25 smiling pickets with placards such as "Hands off our pensions"

Determined pickets at Streatham and Clapham High School (Pic: Sara Tomlinson)

Teachers at 23 independent girls’ schools across England and Wales walked out on Thursday to protect their pensions and defy fire and rehire tactics.

Around 1,500 workers in the NEU union are set to strike for a total of six days. It is the first strike in the Girls Day School Trust’s (GDST) 149-year history.

Management’s decision to fire staff and rehire them on an inferior contract without the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) has angered workers. On an 84 percent turnout, 95 percent voted to strike. 

Strikers joined around 50 lively and large picket lines on the first day of the strike with staff, students, former pupils, parents and local campaigners uniting to boost the action.

Placards and banners read, “Say no to fire and rehire,” and “Hands off our pensions.”

At Shrewsbury Girls High School pickets sang, “We want to stay in the TPS so the staff are marching out.” At Notting Hill and Ealing High School teachers sang, “I’m a believer to stay in the TPS.”

One young student at Streatham and Clapham High School held a sign reading, “I like my teacher and I want her to stay.”

Pickets with home-made placards against fire and rehire

Picketing in Oxford (Pic: Julie Simmons)

Speaking to an online rally hosted by the NEU, teacher Hannah Harrison-Hughes said, “It’s a scary thought that this new pension could run out by the time I’m 78. And it’s even more frustrating that the benefits I’ve already accumulated won’t grow as they would have.”

She added, “It’s a pension that I paid into in good faith, and had every right to get what I was promised. It’s a huge loss and it’s insulting.”

The NEU says that GDST’s finances are healthy and that this attack on workers is unnecessary. The Trust’s management is choosing to fund new buildings rather than the workforce. And in the 2018 to 2019 school year, GDST chief executive Cheryl Giovannoni grabbed almost £274,000.

Hannah said, “I’m angry at being threatened with fire and rehire—I’ve been made to feel worthless. Buildings have more value than me.

“The past two years have shown that I can teach without my classroom, but my class cannot learn without me.”

The attack on workers has also angered many parents and students who are publicly expressing their frustrations. 

Parent and NHS worker Husein from Nottingham said, “Pensions are not a luxury, it’s something we invest in for many years, and should rightly be referred to as deferred pay.”

Teacher with a home-made banner "You can't put students first if you put teachers last. Save our pensions"

A clear message from Norwich (Pic: Wendy Smith)

He added, “Leaving the TPS is a breach of the trust that our teachers entered into when they joined GDST.”

Parent Bobbi from south London agreed. She said, “GDST now have an opportunity to lead by example rather than following a trend. They should be demonstrating a commitment to valuing teachers and staff and dropping the proposal to leave the TPS.”

Labour MP and former GDST pupil Bell Ribeiro-Addy called on teachers to be paid more as well as having their pensions protected. She said, “The government asked teachers to be immigration police, social workers and councillors. 

“All of these different pressures are put onto teachers with less and less resources.” 

If bosses don’t back down staff will return to picket lines on 23 and 24 February, and the first three days in March.

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