The loss of hundreds of members to a rival union has forced the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) into a campaign to try and win them back.

The ASTI leadership’s decision to make exception to normal rules that would impose a financial penalty on returning members was criticised by some delegates at its annual convention.

But the alternative of continuing to shed members, particularly to those moving to the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) but also to people opting out of any union membership, was described as unacceptable. 

Most dual teacher union membership exists in the 136 community and comprehensive (C&C) schools, including 40 community colleges run by education and training boards (ETBs). 

But the ASTI convention heard some of the religious-run secondary schools that were previously dominated by ASTI now also have teachers joining TUI.

The union’s total membership fell by nearly 2,000 to 16,440 last year, but the conference was told yesterday numbers were down disproportionately higher in the C&C sector. They dropped by 432, or 12.3%, to 3,079 compared to a 10.5% overall fall from 18,372 to 16,440.

The union’s national organiser Mary Ohle said the biggest issue in C&C schools was the loss of members during industrial action being pursued alone by ASTI last year after TUI ended its participation in the dispute over junior cycle reforms.

Sinéad Nagle, Carlow branch. Pic:Denis Minihane
Sinéad Nagle, Carlow branch. Pic: Denis Minihane

“Another issue which caused considerable stress to our members was the negative atmosphere and split in classrooms on different union positions on junior cycle, Croke Park and supervision-and-substitution,” she said.

The union’s standing committee recently agreed to waive the usual penalty, normally up to half a year’s subscription, for anyone who seeks to rejoin during this school year.

Dungarvan delegate Liam O’Mahony questioned if union rules permitted this, although he acknowledged some teachers may have left because joining the TUI gave them access they would not otherwise have had to contracts of indefinite duration (CIDs).

“Others may have left at advanced seniority levels, for reasons best known to themselves, and maybe might have encouraged others to leave as well. People like that, I think, should not be given a blanket re-admission,” he said.

“If we have respect for our union, and for the members that stayed loyal to it, we’re letting down the people who stayed loyal by readmitting up to 2,000 people.”

But Tipperary branch member Noel Buckley said the decision was a wise one.

Mary Lyndon, Roscrea branch, (left) and Anne Taylor, Cork south. Pic: Denis Minihane
Mary Lyndon, Roscrea branch, (left) and Anne Taylor, Cork south. Pic: Denis Minihane

“We, so far, are the dominant second-level teachers union, but make no bones about it, the TUI is active and aggressive,” he said.

“You might say let the [departed members] swing, and that they didn’t stay with us in solidarity. But if you think long-term, the other big threat we have apart from the TUI [winning members] is de-unionisation.”

The biggest proportional losses have been among teachers in precarious employment, who might have got faster access to job security by being in TUI during the industrial action. 

The conference was told that “brand TUI” has become more attractive but that this perception needs to be countered and stewards in dual-union schools supported to sign up new teachers the week they arrive in the staff room.

Kilkenny delegate Fergal Canton said one of the benefits of suspending industrial action last summer was that ASTI members became eligible for CIDs but it was like closing the gate after the sheep left the pen.

“To woo them...back into our union, an attitude of hostility is not the best way to recruit,” he said.

“We’re in a beauty competition between two unions. Carrying an axe and a knife and a gun in your belt is not the best way to attract a partner that you’re looking to be long-term with,” said Mr Canton.

More on this topic

Union warns English Language Teaching sector facing disruption unless grievances addressed Union warns English Language Teaching sector facing disruption unless grievances addressed

Education Minister confident despite concerns over introduction of History as mandatory subjectEducation Minister confident despite concerns over introduction of History as mandatory subject

School principals call for more admin support to address 'burnout issue'School principals call for more admin support to address 'burnout issue'

Teachers' union votes overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action over pay discriminationTeachers' union votes overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action over pay discrimination


Lifestyle

Aileen Lee meets Christina Kenny - co-founder and design director of Lamb Design - to talk about her work and inspirations.Christina Kenny of Lamb Design: ‘I love bringing the outside in and inside out’

Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her career and the worth of luxury fashion. By Paul McLauchlan.From Marc Jacobs to her own label, Tyrone designer Sharon Wauchob on her life in fashion

The recent sentencing of two teenage boys for the murder of Ana Kriégel has once again brought the issue of pornography into public discourse. The details of the case, which are finally coming into public knowledge, illuminate some very worrying trends that are pervasive in the modern adolescent world and as parents and indeed as a society we can no longer languish in complacency.Learning Points: Hardcore porn can pollute our children’s minds

If children are confident in interacting with others it takes away so much stress and social anxiety for them. Not too long ago, my daughter Joan and I were out with friends at a restaurant and we wanted extra water and a few other bits and Joan volunteered to go up and ask the waiter for them. My friend was really surprised at this and said that none of her children would willingly do that.Mum’s the word: We should look for chances to strengthen our kids’ social skills

More From The Irish Examiner