The Government has been warned of a backlash at the ballot box by 70,000 teachers and their families if pay equality is not addressed in upcoming talks.

Union leaders at all three teacher conferences warned of the consequences for Government and opposition parties who do not support their campaign on equal pay for equal work.

The same motion passed by all three unions yesterday — unanimously by two of them — means ballots for strikes or other industrial action will issued to their 65,000 to 70,000 members if talks to consider the lower pay of new entrants to the job since 2010 are not concluded within weeks.

Education Minister Richard Bruton told teachers yesterday the Government is committed to seeing progress on the issue but remained unwilling to give a commitment on the equal work for equal pay being demanded by the unions. He also warned that there would be consequences associated with any strikes, as they would contravene the most recent public sector pay deal.

Talks with all public sector unions on new entrants’ pay are not set to begin until April 27. Crucially, the unions are also insisting on terms of reference that give scope for the Government to concede on equal pay, or at the very least a definite timeline for the thousands of teachers concerned.

But as well as disruption or even closures in schools, more likely in the autumn than before summer holidays, the unions are upping the ante with threats of a show of electoral strength.

After an hour-long stream of speakers, most of them lower-paid teachers who have missed out on at least €30,000 each in their short careers to date, Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) president John Boyle spoke about the consequences if talks do not bring the result that his members want.

If they decide to reject the package that emerges, he said, they would be “going to war” with the Government.

“And we will topple this Government if we have to in order to make sure that 60,000 [sic] of their employees are treated fairly and that future governments never go next, nigh or near pay equality,” he said.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary John MacGabhann urged members at their annual congress — and their families and friends — to use their electoral, practical and financial support for parties and candidates in the campaign.

“Tell them that you will not organise, canvass or vote for them until they do the right thing,” he said.

While all three unions are anxious to have the matter resolved through talks, they promised industrial action would be pursued if it is required. Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland president Ger Curtin said the unions make a powerful force with close to 70,000 members saying a collective no to discriminatory treatment of younger teachers.

The three unions rejected the Public Service Stability Agreement late last year, mainly because of the absence of any move on equal pay for newer entrants to public service in its lifetime up to 2020.

The cost of pay equality for teachers would be about €60m of the estimated €200m annual cost of pay restoration for post-2010 entrants to the public service.

While acknowledging at the INTO conference that the unions had what he described as a “justifiable demand” for more progress on the issue, Mr Bruton later said he meant theirs was one of many legitimate claims for extra funding that he must try to balance.

While he has helped close 75% of the gap between lower-paid and longer-serving teachers’ salary scales, INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan told him partial equality is not equality.

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