The first day of the annual conference in Killarney, Co Kerry, heard new teachers are struggling to cope after being hit with lower pay rates introduced in 2011 and the abolition of allowances for qualifications in 2012.
General secretary John MacGabhann said newly employed teachers were being treated like “galley slaves” who are forced, by poverty, to give up part-time jobs, to emigrate, and to moonlight.
“They cannot plan, have no creditworthiness, have their personal independence compromised,” he said.
“Why? Because government marked them out for especially punitive treatment and because employers — who have selected them at interview — treat them as galley slaves.”
Mr MacGabhann said new teachers not only had to deal with pay cuts but also with the loss of certain allowances.
The TUI general secretary acknowledged that it would cost money “to fix this matter” but said there would be an incalculable cost to society if teachers had to endure further delays to pay restoration. He also hit out at a minority of employers that keep young teachers “marooned” on low hours which they can not survive on financially.
“That cost will not simply be monetary,” said Mr MacGabhann. “It will also be the incalculable cost that will be incurred for society if government action creates a disaffected, angry, impoverished teaching force, if service to students lacks the continuity provided by invested, full-time teachers.”
The TUI rejected the Lansdowne Road Agreement on public service pay, while the Haddington Road Agreement expires in June. As a result, the Government has put in place emergency legislation allowing it to impose a series of financial penalties on any union that refuses to agree to a collective agreement.
Mr MacGabhann warned delegates that if ongoing discussions with the Department of Education and Skills did not end with concrete proposals, a ballot for industrial action will be required.
“If proposals emerge they will be brought back to you, the members, for decision by way of ballot,” he said. “The logic of the situation is that were there to be such proposals, and were they to be acceptable to members, the quid pro quo for the department would be that the Tui would become party to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.”
The almost 500 delegates also heard that the higher education sector is “in a state of crisis”.
Mr MacGabhann said staff and budget cuts over the past number of years had left the sector reeling.
“Let us be clear: Higher education is in a state of crisis,” he said. “Budgets cuts of 35%, staffing cuts of 10%, at a time when students number have risen by 32%, tend to have this effect.”
He accused the Higher Education Authority of being “away with the pixies” if it believed that these cuts were sustainable and called on the incoming government to deal with the crisis as “a priority”.