Education Minister Richard Bruton has launched a blistering attack on the ASTI for forcing the closure of over 400 schools across the country today, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor.
He said the industrial action taken today by the ASTI is a “bad mistake” and should not have happened.
“At the moment there is a very substantial gap between the two sides, and that gap is a serious issue for Government,” Mr Bruton said.
Mr Bruton was speaking as more than 400 schools remain closed today in the row over payments for supervision and substitution duties.
He said the ASTI has not allowed its principals cooperate with finding alternative supervision and substitution solutions which would allow schools open, which he described as "deeply regrettable".
“They have made it virtually impossible for schools to open by the decision of the ASTI itself,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference at Government Buildings today, Mr Bruton said the ASTI must comply with working one extra hour per week, if they want to be paid for supervision and substitution.
“It is bitterly disappointing that this dispute which is about working one hour a week for 33 weeks, has led to the closure of schools,” he said.
“It is very disruptive to find about 400 schools remaining closed for an indefinite period over a dispute that is about working one hour a week,” Mr Bruton added.
“I believe this is a bad mistake by the ASTI. It beggars belief that we are facing a closure of this scale for an issue of that sort,” he said.
On the other hand, he said, if teachers agree to work that one hour a week, it would trigger immediate positive gains for ASTI members.
Mr Bruton said if teachers return to work the one hour a week then there is a substantial deal on the table, particularly for young teachers.
He said newly hired teachers would see an increase in their pay of up to €6,700 bringing their pay to over €37,000, which he described as a very substanial increase.
He also said the deal offers the chance of earlier permanency and greater promotion opportunities.
“If we abandon 14,000 public servants for the ASTI, the consequence would be devastating," he said.
Mr Bruton said that hour is something every public servant works, and many across the public sector work more than one hour.
The minister said that the ASTI are trying to re-write the entire approach to public pay in this dispute.
“We cannot have a situation where one union in one sector decides it will not work one hour a week. This is not about a core contractual issue,” he said.
“There is a quid-pro-quo. If they return to work, then there are benefits available to them,” Mr Bruton said.
Mr Bruton said there are very important principles involved but restated that the offer on the table for younger teachers is very substantial.
Mr Bruton denied strongly that Government is trying to bully teachers or that the Government has “locked out” the teachers, as claimed by the Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Ruth Coppinger.
The minister said the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) is still viable despite claims from union leaders and industrial relations experts who said it is dead.
Government sources have said the Minister and his department are adamant that the line must be held in the wake of the Garda deal on Friday in a bid to try to salvage Lansdowne Road.
Meanwhile, President of the ASTI Ed Byrne said that there is no sign of the dispute being resolved.
Mr Byrne (pictured) said that 'one size fits all' is not always the best way and this was highlighted by the deal reached with gardaí.
On RTE's Today with Sean O'Rourke, ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie said adequate time for the Government was given to put plans in place to cover supervision and substitution hours that are not being covered by ASTI teachers.
"The prospect of this action has been around for months so there was more than adquate time available for the Minister to put a workable contingency plan in place. There are schools open today whose principals are ASTI members. I'm aware of eight," Mr Christie said.