Reforms are off the table, says union

THE Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has rejected Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe’s suggestion that public service reforms which were close to being agreed last week could form the basis of further negotiations with unions next year.

The minister told the Irish Examiner on Monday that he expected the proposals, which had included an extra hour’s work for supervision and other school duties from 60,000 school teachers, to remain on the table despite the pay talks collapsing last Friday. Other aspects agreed in principle included a review of teachers’ contracts and additional work for third-level lecturers.

But TUI general secretary Peter MacMenamin said elements of a possible agreement last week were only on the table as part of a wider deal that did not involve imposing direct pay cuts for his 15,000 members.

The budget today will include cuts to salaries of teachers and all other public servants, expected to average 6%.

“Now that the deal has been withdrawn by Mr O’Keeffe’s government and the strong likelihood of a direct pay cut in the budget remains, all bets are off. Such issues will no longer be considered by the TUI while this situation remains,” the TUI leader said.

“The minister cannot have it both ways, if he wants transformation there is a cost. These elements formed part of a negotiation process which the Government side reneged upon but they can not and will not be revisited while the present impasse continues,” he said.

The TUI executive will meet again on Friday to further assess the situation, although Mr O’Keeffe has said he expects the budget to be less harsh on education than a year ago when a range of cutbacks included reductions in school staffing.

“The current spending is obviously going to be affected but I’m cushioned in terms of the pupil teacher ratio and a number of other issues, and I hope I won’t have the same winter of discontent that I had in education last year,” he said.

A commitment not to further reduce school staffing levels was secured by the Green Party in the renegotiation of the Programme for Government in October. But rising pupil numbers at primary and second level could still mean higher payroll costs and may lead to further cuts in other parts of the €9 billion education budget today.

Mr O’Keeffe would not speculate on anticipated cuts of 10% in third-level funding, already cut significantly this year, or the likely impact on the school building programme on the €1bn being taken out of overall capital spending next year.

“I’m confident that next year’s building programme will be very progressive and show that it’s the Government’s intention to continue to see the programme as a very major important infrastructural development,” he said.


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