Teachers warned they must deliver hours

ASTI president Máire Ní Chiarba.

Teachers risk losing the chance to narrow pay gaps for younger colleagues if they vote to stop doing extra work, the Department of Education has warned.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) annual convention voted last week that members should cease the extra 33 hours a year being delivered since 2011 under the Croke Park agreement — but the move would have to be approved by a ballot of all 18,000 members.

ASTI had accepted the Haddington Road Agreement (HRA) which succeeded Croke Park, but convention delegates said that, with its expiry at the end of June, the requirement to do the extra hours should also end. Many said the hours are put to unproductive use on staff meetings rather than, for example, class preparations or corrections.

But the department said a requirement for extra hours will not expire in June.

“The HRA has been extended to 2017 through the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA) and these hours are a continuing element of the agreement,” a spokesman said.

Although the ASTI and Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) rejected the LRA, the department said all unions affiliated to Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) are regarded as party to it unless they repudiate the agreement. The ICTU public services committee voted to accept the LRA in consequence of its ratification by the majority of unions representing public servants last year.

“Stepping outside the LRA would have consequences for members of a union and these would need to be carefully considered by them in voting on a decision to repudiate,” the department told the Irish Examiner.

“These include a freeze on increments, loss of specific salary improvements and salary restoration for teachers, other specific benefits for fixed-term and part-time teachers, and other protections provided for under the collective agreement, such as compulsory redundancy,” the spokesperson said.

ASTI president Máire Ní Chiarba told delegates on Thursday that any necessary meetings would be held to ensure a ballot can take place before the end of this school year. This, she said, would allow a union directive to be issued in time for next school year if members back the proposal to cease working the extra hours.

The debate on the issue on Wednesday heard that some principals are already planning staff meetings in late August that would be held using ‘Croke Park hours’, despite teachers’ insistence they would no longer be required to work them after June.

All three teacher union conferences last week promised to ramp up efforts to restore pay parity for members who started teaching since 2011, under two different reduced pay scales depending on what year they entered the profession. ASTI is to ballot members for authority to take industrial action up to strikes if the issue is not fully resolved before schools return next autumn, a mandate already held by TUI in respect of its members.

The Department of Education said last week that the LRA would begin a process of bridging the gap between pre-2011 and post-2011 teachers, through salary improvements that are of proportionately greater value to newer entrants. Those would be among the improvements at risk of being withdrawn if union members withdraw from working Croke Park hours.

Those sanctions could be imposed under the provisions of Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) acts. The ASTI convention last week heard calls for the union to lobby TDs to reject any attempt by Brendan Howlin’s successor as public expenditure minister to extend the FEMPI measures.

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