'We need to have separate reproductive health leave' says teachers' union

The State’s largest teaching union has called for statutory time off work after miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and fertility treatment as part of a comprehensive review of current sick leave entitlements.

At the INTO’s annual congress in Galway, primary school teachers outlined personal experiences before voting through the motion – stating it was the first public service union to seek such statutory leave for reproductive health matters.

INTO delegate Josephine Byrne outlined how after she had experienced a miscarriage just under two years ago when ten weeks’ pregnant.

Ms Byrne, who is a member of the INTO equality committee, said that in spite of a “beyond supportive” reassurance from her principal to take time off, she was worried about using up her sick leave. She had returned to work before she was ready.

“We need to have separate reproductive health leave,” she said, explaining that pregnancy-related sick certificates could currently only be issued by GPs for issues arising in later pregnancy.

IVF was only going to become a “bigger issue”, and she welcomed the fact that the INTO had “opened up the conversation on this”.

Ms Byrne said that she had subsequently become pregnant, and gave birth to twin girls six months ago.

Earlier today, Minister for Education Joe McHugh expressed confidence that the issue of two-tier pay for teachers would be tackled by Government, and urged union members to “trust the process”.

Speaking to journalists after his address to the INTO, Mr McHugh cautioned that he had “no way of predetermining what the outcome will be”.

“I’ve said all along that this is unfinished business. I mean that and I’m hearing the calls and cries from the younger teachers,” Mr McHugh said, referring to the 2011-14 cohort of primary teachers on lower pay.

“I’m confident that with whatever new mechanisms around the pay agreement, the next round, that we will find a way,” he said.

Education Minister Joe McHugh.
Education Minister Joe McHugh.

The largest teachers’ union has already welcomed an agreed wording by Government and unions earlier this week.

Responding to reports yesterday (tues) that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was seeking to downplay the development, INTO outgoing general secretary Sheila Nunan said that “we are operating off the text that was agreed between the parties to the public service stability agreement”.

“The text is the text and that’s the basis on which INTO will be engaging,”Ms Nunan said. The current pay agreement is due to run until the end of next year.

In a wide-ranging address to over 850 INTO delegates, which was punctuated with warm applause, Mr McHugh said that restoration of funding to schools through capital grants would be a priority in the next Budget.

He also promised to look at ensuring there was no change to gains made in teacher/pupil ratios in the context of declining populations in some rural areas.

Responding to Mr McHugh, INTO general secretary designate John Boyle said that it was “very heartening” to hear the minister back up his previous statements on pay inequality.

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