From education to employment

UCU Celebrate as Prison Educators Enjoy Successful Negotiation

According to the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee report, writes Sudakshina Mukherjee for FE News, called “The Link to Recidivism,” “Prisoners who do not take part in education are three times more likely to be reconvicted than those that do.”

So, prison educators are considered to be the key to reducing the rate of prisoners re – offending. However, they may quit their jobs- should their new employers worsen their pensions. From the 31st July 2006, several private companies have taken over some of the contracts to provide what is now called the Offenders Learning and Skills Service (OLASS).

Pay and Conditions ““ The Background

Former college staff were to transfer automatically to contract winners, on the same pay and conditions, but many did not receive guarantees regarding their pensions. A4E has won the largest share of new contracts, including those for prisons in Kent and the East of England, to provide OLASS. Those educators transferring to A4E are currently members of the Teachers Pensions Scheme (TPS), which is a final salary scheme. They could have lost out on this, as A4E is ineligible to join the TPS.

Indeed, under government regulations, A4E is obliged to offer a comparable scheme. It had offered four options – all of which would be to the detriment of prison educators. Staff in the TPS scheme could continue their own contributions to their TPS pension, but they were going to have to pay the employers contribution as well. With the contract changeover on the 31st of July, angry staff wrote to MPs.

Christiane Ohsan, the University and College Lecturers” Union’s (UCUs) national official for prison educators, had commented: “UCU is writing to the education minister, Bill Rammell (MP), urging him to encourage A4E to meet the costs of the employer’s contribution to enable staff to stay in the Teachers” Pension Scheme. If prison education is to avoid serious damage we need swift action by the Minister.”

Lobbying Sees Victory Spoils

Indeed, after lobbying by the UCU, prison educators have won guarantees that the cost and value of their pension will remain effectively unchanged despite a change of employer. Amidst fears that experienced staff would quit prison work, moving to other teaching jobs which would maintain their pension value, the UCU pressed for a deal with A4E to guarantee pension parity with staff still employed by colleges. Indeed, the UCU’s head of equality and employment rights, Roger Kline, even wrote to Education Minister Bill Rammell MP. However, A4E has agreed to an arrangement which will effectively match the teachers” former pensions.

After the victory, Christiane Ohsan said: “This is a good solution and a sensible end to the problem. It shows that persistent pressure and lobbying by the union can achieve results but it also exposes the weakness of the national arrangements for the protection of pensions. There is a lack of clarity about what “comparable pension” means and it would be worrying if any private bidders for OLASS or other education contracts felt this ambiguity could provide space for cost-cutting. UCU has made it clear that we will challenge any such effort to diminish our members” pensions.”

Sudakshina Mukherjee

What does the monkey say? Find out in From the FE Trenches!

Related Articles