Schools reopen as teachers agree to enter talks but hospitals face chaos as nurses union threatens to strike

More than 400 second-level schools are re-opening to students for the first time in nearly a fortnight as the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Department of Education enter conciliation talks.
Schools reopen as teachers agree to enter talks but hospitals face chaos as nurses union threatens to strike

Industrial action that has seen nearly 200,000 students receive no classes since before the mid-term break was the subject of an invitation yesterday to talks. It was issued by Teachers Conciliation Council chair Anna Perry, and accepted last night by the ASTI and by Education Minister Richard Bruton’s officials.

While the move by no means guarantees a resolution to their complicated disputes on a number of fronts, the union’s 23-member standing committee agreed to suspend their one-day strikes and withdrawal of their 17,500 members from supervision and substitution duties. That will remain the case as long as the talks with Ms Perry continue, a process that could go on until the end of this month.

The official strike at over 500 schools yesterday, in pursuit of equal pay for recently qualified teachers, was the second by ASTI members in 11 days. But they faced considerable further losses of pay into the future as long as most of those schools remained closed because of the separate action that saw them refuse to do supervision and substitution work.

Meanwhile, hospitals are set to be brought to a stand-still within weeks after the largest nurses union has become the latest to threaten Government with imminent strike action.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) announced the plan last night as general secretary Liam Doran warned the Lansdowne Road deal is no longer “tenable” and members will now be balloted on strike action.

The INMO confirmed the winter of discontent is now set to spread to vital hospital services.

It comes as senior Cabinet ministers yesterday claimed that Government has been “torpedoed” and “totally let down” by the Labour Court’s pay deal for gardaí .

The phasing out of USC is now in doubt as the Government will have to find an extra €40 million each year to fund the Garda pay deal.

Minister for Public Expenditure an Reform Paschal Donohoe said the deal would have “significant consequences” and could not rule out cuts to frontline services.

“Any change of agreement that we have in relation to the Lansdowne Road Agreement has consequences for everything else that Government wants to do,” he said.

Several ministers speaking to the Irish Examiner said they have been left in an invidious position, either to abandon the Lansdowne Road Agreement or undermine the Labour Court.

“It has serious implications for the future so Paschal and his team are going to talk to ICTU and other bodies and try and address those issues. The Labour Court has brought forward a lot of things and while it is technically within Lansdowne Road but it has made serious difficulties for ministers and that was reflected around the Cabinet table,” one senior Government source has said.

“Nobody is happy that the Labour Court has torpedoed the Lansdowne Road Agreement, but what is the alternative? The Labour Court has let the Government down,” the source added.

It is understood many Fine Gael ministers vented their anger at a meeting of their party’s Cabinet team earlier in the day.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar “didn’t open his mouth” at the Cabinet meeting, despite speaking out in the media in recent days as to his unwillingness to sacrifice any of his budget to pay for the Garda deal.

Despite the anger of some ministers at the Labour Court at Cabinet, what wasn’t discussed is how it will be paid for, the source added. “That discussion has to happen very soon,” one minister said.

Announcing the decision to ballot its members, the INMO said a key element of the demand is “accelerated restoration” of pay.

Nurses will be balloted on November 24 on whether to agree to industrial action including work-to-rule measures and the option of one-day stoppages, with the results to be made known on December 15 and strike measures beginning three weeks later.

Health Minister Simon Harris stressed while he wants to meet with the INMO next week, nurses have already received a €1,000 “incremental credit”, unstated extra funds for taking on “some duties” and permanent contract guarantees for new graduates.

However, Mr Doran — who insisted his union has not “jumped on the bandwagon” of industrial action — warned Government it will not “wriggle out of this”.

More in this section