Political row over pay for teachers

Education Minister Richard Bruton

Education Minister Richard Bruton has slapped down a controversial suggestion by his junior minister that new and existing teachers should be on equal pay.

‘Super’ junior education minister Mary Mitchell-O’Connor says newly qualified teachers should get the same as colleagues who entered the sector before the financial crash.

The differing views come as CAO figures this week showed a drop in points for teaching, which was cited on a reduction in the number applying.

New teachers walking into a classroom after 2010 are on 14% lower pay than their colleagues, despite having the same responsibilities. Some teaching unions have said the disparity is encouraging those entering the profession to leave the country.

Teachers who qualified after 2010 earn around €8,000 less than their senior colleagues.

Mr Bruton says they have taken steps to restore 75% of newer entrants’ pay, but his department colleague Ms Mitchell-O’Connor yesterday contradicted government policy when addressing the question of her own pay as a super junior minister overseeing third-level education. Two other super-juniors are paid €16,288 in top-up pay, but there is no provision in law for a third minister to receive this.

Asked whether she should get the same as her colleagues at Cabinet, she said: “Everyone who does the same job deserves the same pay.”

She was asked whether the same principle should apply for teachers in schools.

“‘I’m very cognisant of the issues around the younger teachers. There are many people paid differently in staff rooms, they become more senior and get paid more money.”

However, pressed on whether teachers deserved equal pay for equal work, Ms Mitchell-O’Connor said: “Well, I think they do and I am going to stand by that. That is my comment.”

She was speaking at the announcement in Dublin of a new multi-million-euro initiative to widen access to third-level education.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland welcomed her suggestion. In a statement to the Irish Examiner, its president Ger Curtin said: “The ASTI has been to the forefront in highlighting the issue of unequal pay in teaching. Last October ASTI members took strike action over the issue. The issue has not gone away and is the number one priority for the ASTI. We therefore welcome any statement that indicates a shift away from the policy of unequal pay for recently qualified teachers.”

However, hours after Ms Mitchell-O’Connor’s comment, Mr Bruton said equal pay could not be afforded.

It would “take a huge chunk of money” out of the public sector, he told RTÉ. Equal pay for teachers would also draw resources from other public service areas in need, he said, and he pointed out negotiations were ongoing with teachers.

He said he hoped the gap between new and existing teachers could be closed further in the future.

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