By Daniel McConnell, Juno McEnroe and Niall Murray.
Junior education minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor is under fire from some of her ministerial colleagues, who have described her comments on teachers’ pay as “deeply unhelpful”.
Ms Mitchell O’Connor has caused controversy by saying young teachers should be paid the same as their senior colleagues, despite the continuation of a two-tier system by the Government.
Teachers who started work after 2010 earn 14% less than colleagues, after sweeping cuts following the economic crash.
Ms Mitchell O’Connor’s comments have been seized upon by unions who have demanded that the disparity in pay be ended. However, ministers have reacted angrily to such comments.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, senior ministers have taken a dim view of the comments, insisting they have angered Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe.
“Comments like that are unhelpful,” said one minister. “Mary’s comments are personal. It doesnt help when a junior minister for education makes comments like that. I know Paschal is not happy about it.”
There has also been criticism of the trade unions, who have been accused of “double-speak” and “hypocrisy” by some ministers.
“The unions can’t have it every way,” one minister said. “If they really wanted it sorted, if there was their number one issue they could have had it. There is an element of double speak from the unions coming out.
“It is hypocritical of the unions, if you go back a number of years when they decided to protect their own pay and reduce the pay of those coming in. Everybody is not pleased with it now, but no one was willing to take the hit back a few years ago. This was a decision of the membership of the unions back in the day, but now all of a sudden they have a conscience.”
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said such a move would cost €240m next year, which would eat up nearly all the discretionary spending available for services and tax cuts for 2018.
She said there was already a map there to increase pay for new teachers. There was still a willingness to reinstate pay, she said.
Education Minister Richard Bruton rejected the idea this week, saying it would take a “huge chunk of money” out of public services.
Two junior ministers have backed calls by Ms Mitchell O’Connor for equal pay for teachers, saying the different rates for new entrants should be “phased out”.
Junior jobs minister Pat Breen told the Irish Examiner he would like to also see lower pay for new teachers removed but the Government needed to be frugal.
“Down the road, I’d like to see it happen,” he said. “But you have to cut your cloth. There is a funding issue there. Mary Mitchell O’Connor is passionate about education.”
Junior local government minister John Paul Phelan had the same view, saying: “There are those who started a few months apart and are on different rates. That’s not fair. It should be phased out. I’d like to see it done in the next couple of pay deals. It can’t be done this year because of the fiscal space. It’s the last tight budget, so hopefully they can be looked at next.”
Teacher unions have welcomed the highlighting of unequal pay by Ms Mitchell O’Connor.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said teachers have suffered most because of the €500m saved by taxpayers since pay for new entrants to the public service was cut from 2011. More than 7,000 of of 36,000 INTO members are paid less than longer-serving colleagues at the same stage in their careers.
A spokesman for Mr Donohoe said: “The minister awaits the final outcome of the ballot of ICTU members on the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 nd will make no further comment on the matter at this time.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.