Hundreds of schools could be forced to close this term after a pay dispute between secondary teachers and Government deepened over the weekend.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) expects the result of two ballots for industrial action of its 18,000 members in mid-October. However, one has the potential to force schools to shut without pickets even being placed at the gates.
The ASTI’s central executive council decided on Saturday to recommend members vote to withdraw from supervision and substitution work at more than 400 second-level schools where they work. The stance signals anger over the pay restrictions placed on them because of their rejection of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
The majority of teachers who signed up to do work were previously paid for it but that is no longer the case. If ASTI members now refuse to carry out these duties, insurance concerns over a lack of cover for teacher absences from class or to supervise lunch breaks could force schools to shut down unless contingency arrangements are in place.
The union said the ballot was prompted by the application of financial emergency laws that have seen ASTI members left outside the benefits felt by other teacher unions that signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. These include phased restoration of salary increments and quicker access to job security for those in non-permanent teaching posts.
These measures were imposed by the Department of Education in response to ASTI’s directive in June that members stop working 33 extra hours a year that saw parent-teacher meetings and other activities held outside school time for a number of years under the now-lapsed Croke Park agreement.
ASTI president Ed Byrne said the department’s response was a considerable over-reaction.
“We must respond to this most serious escalation of this dispute with the department,” he said. “We must now give a strong message to the Government that this treatment is unacceptable.”
Education Minister Richard Bruton said he was disappointed by the decision to ballot members for industrial action. He believes that continuing dialogue between his department and the ASTI would be in the best interests of schools, parents, students, and teachers.
“It is regrettable that ASTI seem determined to pursue a route of confrontation rather than dialogue,” he said.
He reiterated his department’s offer in July to suspend its measures during talks with the ASTI on issues of concern. However, this was conditional on the union suspending its withdrawal from working the “Croke Park hours”, and has previously been rejected by ASTI leaders.
Pressure on the Government is raised by the industrial action threat, up to possible strikes, unless equal pay for newly qualified teachers is restored. The council also recommends a yes vote, with voting to take place in the next few weeks.
An agreement on partial restoration, through revised qualifications allowances, is expected to be reached with the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation and Teachers’ Union of Ireland within weeks. However, ASTI’s annual convention last March mandated the union to ballot members if anything less than full restoration of a common basic pay scale for all teachers was on offer by the end of August.
“New and recently qualified teachers are not only faced with years of casual short-term contracts, but an inferior rate of pay for doing the exact same work as their colleagues,” said ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie. “Our goal is simple, we want equal pay for equal work. The message from our central executive council is they are prepared to take strike action on this issue.”
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