Concern over escalation if deal turned down

The past month’s discussions between ASTI leaders and Department of Education officials have been a very fine balancing act.

On one hand, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn rightly could not be seen to give any concessions on the Haddington Road Agreement as the slightest erosion of its terms would send a procession of other union leaders to his colleague Brendan Howlin’s door demanding their own deals.

On the other hand, ASTI members had to be convinced there was enough in what emerged to end their month-long industrial action without being seen to have folded.

The proposals that emerged from one day of official talks — but clearly thrashed out over the previous weeks more secretly than the 2008 banking guarantee — appear to cede nothing on the deal itself. Much of the detail confirms some HRA measures on teachers, such as job security and posts of responsibility being filled.

However, ASTI’s central executive decided on Saturday that there was not enough. Quite how much they expected to achieve when every other public service union is signed up to the HRA is uncertain, but the public position of ASTI general secretary Pat King since his members’ action began was that the dispute is more about educational issues than the pay aspects of the deal.

While making no changes to pay conditions imposed on them, the proposals now recommended for rejection include commitments to address some key educational concerns.

There is a department agreement to examine with unions and school management groups the use of the 33 extra hours’ work a year that was already being delivered under the previous Croke Park agreement.

Any changes could end the frustration in many schools at the time being used for whole-staff meetings instead of more productive smaller-group meetings of, for example, subject teachers to discuss curriculum changes or share good teaching practices.

The need to address concerns about new assessment systems for a revised junior cycle, for which training of English teachers begins tomorrow without ASTI members, were the kind of thing the union spoke about being capable of appeasing them, but the timeframe involved was not enough to satisfy its CEC.

Although the September result of ASTI’s ballot on Haddington Road was 63% against — on a 55% turnout when counting around 1,000 retired teachers entitled to vote — many members privately said they were disappointed, particularly given the likelihood of cuts from pay being restored in a relatively short few years.

Whatever the outcome of the latest ASTI vote, most of this school term will have been disrupted in 500 second-level schools. The question is whether that will escalate in 2014 to strike-enforced school closures, which will be the only viable option if the ASTI rejects the deal again.


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