The ballots were called in the wake of last month’s announcement of the public service pension levy, but the outcome is also a reflection of teacher anger at recent cutbacks in education services.
The level of action will be decided over the next week or so by the executives of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) which has 18,000 members, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), 30,000 members, and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which has 14,500 members.
Although it is unlikely they would decide to begin with immediate strike action, the ballot mandates union leaders to sanction up to two days of work stoppages. The unions are likely to co-ordinate any actions, which might include a work-to-rule or non-co-operation.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has already pencilled in March 30 as a possible date for a national strike, but that might be changed in light of the Government’s plans to announce a supplementary budget in early April.
The specific level of support for industrial action or turnout in the ballot among each of the teachers unions was not known last night. But the general secretaries of the ASTI, INTO and TUI (John White, John Carr and Peter MacMenamin, respectively) said the results clearly showed the anger at Government’s handling of the crisis.
“The decision was a difficult one for teachers who, as well as facing difficult economic circumstances, are well aware of the impact of the economic crisis on the communities in which they live and work,” they said in a joint statement.
“Teachers and other workers expected to be treated in a fair and equitable manner and that the well off in society would contribute their fair share. They want Government to re-enter discussions to address the economic crisis with ICTU on the basis that the burden must be shared by all sectors of society according to their means,” they said.
Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe noted the teacher unions’ statement and issued a message to their 60,000-plus members.
“Ultimately, the Government has taken decisions in the interest of the public and in the long-term interest of the nation, and the minister would urge teachers and other public servants to take that into consideration,” his spokesperson said.
The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) is expected to begin balloting its 2,000 members on industrial action next week.
The Government has already seen members of the Civil, Public and Services Union picket departmental and State agency offices in strike action and action has been backed by a ballot of the 10,000-member Public Service Executive Union.
Around 60,000 public servants who are members of IMPACT are currently being balloted, and the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) will ballot its 40,000 members next week.