Secondary teachers consider legal action over 'punitive' penalties imposed by Government

Secondary teachers consider legal action over 'punitive' penalties imposed by Government
Pictured ASTI conference in Clayton White’s Hotel, Wexford, today are Bernadine O’Sullivan, Dublin branch, and Eddie Kenneally, Sligo branch. Photo: Mary Browne

Secondary school teachers are considering legal action against the Government as they were treated differently to nurses when engaged in industrial action

The potential legal action specifically relates to the Government imposing "punitive" financial penalties on teachers after they took industrial action three years ago.

In the main, the legal action would focus on the Government's failure to impose similar penalties on 40,000 nurses and midwives who engaged in industrial action earlier this year, actions which breached an "industrial peace clause" of the Public Service Pay Agreement.

Kieran Christie, the general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), told the annual conference in Wexford today the union had identified a number of potential grounds for legal action.

He said teachers suffered an increment freeze, leaving them at a disadvantage three years on from their industrial action but the Government did not do the same with nurses and midwives when they were out on strike this year.

"We are working with our lawyers to see what can be done about the differential treatment of ASTI and INMO (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation) members regarding the application of the FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) legislation.

We believe we have identified a number of potential grounds for legal action for ASTI.

"Obviously we are not going to discuss them in detail publicly but they may include a judicial review of the government’s decision to implement the FEMPI provisions in an arbitrary manner and it also includes a look at the possibility that we may be able to consider an action for breach of ASTI members constitutional right to equality provided by Article 40.1 of the Constitution," Mr Christie said.

Mr Christie described FEMPI as "an invidious piece of draconian legislation" that should never have made it on to the Irish statute books.

He said that the legislation was imposed on ASTI members in a punitive manner, something that striking nurses and midwives did not experience.

"As we know, the legislation was used against ASTI members during our dispute in an oppressive and punitive manner that grossly penalised our members. It is now clear that the Government has not resorted to these tactics against the nurses. ASTI welcomes that approach," said Mr Christie.

The issue of how FEMPI was arbitrarily imposed on ASTI members, has been raised with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) at the "most senior levels."

ASTI's general secretary inferred that the union may be able to seek a judicial review on the decision to penalise its members three years ago.

"We may ask a court to quash that decision on the basis that the decision to allow the INMO to remain within the terms of the 2018 [Public Service Pay] Agreement, despite engaging in industrial action, means that the ASTI now has a legitimate expectation that the same outcome will pertain to them," Mr Christie said.

The union has written to the Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh and is awaiting a response.

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